Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State

Bill Pryor has been a fervent supporter of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments crusade. This month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, to which Pryor has been nominated, unanimously ruled against Moore for using the power of his office to turn the Alabama state judicial building into a forum for proselytizing his religious views. Moore had installed a massive monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state courthouse after being elected on a campaign emphasizing his insistence on displaying the Ten Commandments in his state trial courtroom, a display that Pryor had supported. (Pryor also supported Moore’s sponsorship of sectarian prayers before juries.)

At his hearing and in his written answers, Pryor tried to put some distance between himself and Moore, an effort that finds no support in the public record.

Both Pryor and Sen. Sessions have suggested that because of Pryor’s alleged disagreements with Moore on church-state questions, Moore “eventually,” in Sessions’ words, had his own lawyers make the case for his Ten Commandments monument. But contemporary records show that Pryor appointed three private lawyers as Deputy Attorneys General of Alabama to represent Moore just four days after the lawsuit challenging the Ten Commandments monument was filed. At the time, Pryor said, “I look forward to providing a vigorous defense of the Ten Commandments and feel strongly that the display of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the judicial building does not violate the First Amendment.”

The recent ruling by the 11th Circuit rejecting that display recognized the extremist point of view argued by Deputy Attorney General Herbert Titus in this case. 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.”

Pryor has refused the opportunity to clarify his supposed disagreement with the legal positions advanced by Herbert Titus on behalf of Moore in his capacity as a Deputy Attorney General of Alabama.

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