Appeals Court Rebukes “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore

Strongly worded ruling upholding church-state separation and rule of law is also a repudiation of the extreme views of appeals court nominee Bill Pryor

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has unanimously ruled against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for using the power of his office to turn the Alabama State judicial building into a forum for proselytizing his religious views.

Moore, whose unconstitutional practices have been championed by 11th Circuit nominee Bill Pryor, had installed a massive monument of the Ten Commandments in the state courthouse after being elected on a campaign emphasizing his insistence on displaying the Ten Commandments in his state trial courtroom. Today’s appeals court ruling affirmed a lower court order that the monument be removed.

People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas called the ruling a “powerful affirmation of religious liberty.”

“The appeals court has reaffirmed both common sense and the Constitution,” said Neas. “No American should enter a courthouse and feel like an outsider because he or she does not share the judge’s religious beliefs. No judge should be free to use his or her power over people’s lives to subject them to his personal religious proselytizing.”

In its ruling, the appeals court wrote, “If we adopted [Moore’s] position, the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court’s courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench. Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises.”

Moore has previously declined to say whether he would abide by a court ruling against his monument. The court’s decision today concludes:

The rule of law does require that every person obey judicial orders when all available means of appealing them have been exhausted. The chief justice of a state supreme court, of all people, should be expected to abide by that principle. We do expect that if he is unable to have the district court’s order overturned through the usual appellate processes, when the time comes Chief Justice Moore will obey that order. If necessary, the court order will be enforced. The rule of law will prevail.

Neas noted that 11th Circuit nominee Bill Pryor, Alabama’s Attorney General, has been an enthusiastic backer of Justice Moore’s Ten Commandments crusade. Pryor’s extreme positions have also been repudiated in a number of Supreme Court decisions this year, including most recently the Supreme Court’s historic overturning of anti-gay sodomy laws and its refusal to allow states to escape liability for violating the rights of their employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“Judges matter,” said Neas. “It is no mystery how Bill Pryor would have ruled if he had been involved in the Roy Moore case. It is imperative that U.S. senators carefully consider the consequences of allowing the appeals courts to become dominated by far-right ideologues.”

Read a portion of PFAW's report on the nomination of Bill Pryor discussing Pryor's support for Moore.

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