'Religious Freedom Comes from God'
Roy Moore, the deposed Alabama judge, discusses his most famous case, and why he's still fighting for the Ten Commandments.
BY: Interview by Rebecca Phillips
The U.S. Supreme Court just issued decisions on two major Ten Commandments cases,
Van Orden v. Perry
McCreary County, Kentucky. v. ACLU of Kentucky,
to determine the constitutionality of the display of the Ten Commandments on government property. But neither of these cases has yet drawn the kind of public attention and scrutiny that a recent Ten Commandments case in Alabama did. Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, was removed from office in November 2003 after refusing to remove a 2.6-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the Alabama state courthouse. Moore appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear his case.
Moore's case became a rallying point for conservative Christians across the country, including those who launched the "Spirit of Montgomery" caravan tour in the summer of 2003 to save the monument. This spring he released "So Help Me God," a memoir and explanation of his position on the commandments. He recently spoke with Beliefnet about the book, his view of the separation of church and state, judicial activism, and why he wouldn't forbid a Muslim judge from displaying a verse from the Qur'an on public property.
What moved you to write this book right now?
Well, I've been asked for many years to write a book about what was going on in Alabama for the last ten years or so about the Ten Commandments and what it means to have religious freedom and liberty. That's what the book is about; it's not only about my life, but also about what led me to do what I did.
The book covers separation of church and state. We cover the rule of law. We cover the judicial tyranny--how judges are not ruling by the Constitution they're sworn to uphold. Separation of church and state, as I said, and separation of powers are also covered.
How exactly do you interpret the separation of church and state?
Well, separation of church and state is a doctrine, historical or legal. Although those words are not in the Constitution or the Declaration or Articles of Confederation or Articles of Association, they're still a very viable concept originally coming from the Bible where God separated the jurisdiction of the priests from the jurisdiction of the kings. It comes down to history--in the 14th and 15th centuries, there was a lot of rivalry between the pope of Rome and the kings of Europe, both of which acknowledged God but wanted to control the other. That's exactly what our forefathers wanted to get away from, not God but the control by the state over the church, and we've misconstrued the concept to separation of church and state. It's a very valuable concept, but it doesn't mean to separate us from God or Christian principles. Indeed, separation of church and state mandates a recognition of the Judeo-Christian God.
So where does that leave people who are not from a Judeo-Christian background?
It leaves them where this country left them--with freedom of religion. You see, that freedom comes from a particular God. It doesn't come from the Muslim God. If you go to Saudi Arabia, you'll find the state enforcing a particular way to worship God that is contradictory to what the concept in America was. Freedom of religion comes from God and the state is prohibited from interfering with it. Indeed, as late as 1946, the United States Supreme Court itself, in
Girouard vs. the United States
, recognized that the victory for freedom of thought recorded in the Bill of Rights recognizes that in the domain of conscience, there is a moral power higher than the state. Throughout the ages, people have suffered death rather than subordinate their allegiance to God to the authority of the state. Freedom of religion guaranteed by the first amendment is a product of that struggle. That's true today--we have our freedom because of God.
You write in the book that you feel you cannot do your job without acknowledging God. Where do you draw the line between acknowledging God privately and acknowledging God publicly? Why does it have to be a public acknowledgement for you to do your job?
For the same that when the president takes his oath on the Bible, he says 'So help me God.' The same reason the United States Supreme Court publicly acknowledges God in its opening prayer, 'God save the United States and this honorable court.' The same reason for our national motto, 'In God We Trust'. We publicly acknowledge God. It's simply something that our oath is based upon. If you have to uphold the Constitution, you cannot understand it if you cannot understand man is a fallen creature and that the Constitution separates those powers between various branches with checks and balances on them particularly because man is a fallen creature and seeks power. To restrain that power was the very purpose of the Constitution.
So do you feel that you have to acknowledge God publicly so people understand where you're coming from? Why isn't it enough for you to just get up in the morning thinking, 'I'm going to go about my day believing in God.'
Because this country's founded upon God; without the acknowledgement of God, there would be no country. The Declaration of Independence says very clearly that we're entitled to exist as a power on Earth by the laws of nature and nature's God. The United States code annotated today recognizes the Declaration as organic law; it is the law I'm sworn to uphold. The Constitution of Alabama said that we invoked the favoring guidance of Almighty God in order to establish justice.
Courts do not have authority over what you think. When you come before the court you're free to be a Christian, a Jew, an atheist, a Buddhist, or whatever because courts judge you on what you've done, not what you think. And likewise when you leave the courts, you can worship a tree if you want and the court cannot interfere with that. That is a concept coming from God.
Why did you choose the Ten Commandments to display?
It's identified with a particular God, the Judeo-Christian God. It is the laws that form the moral basis of our society and it represents the restrictions of government in its two tables.
Some people have suggested that judges post the Beatitudes in their courtrooms instead--that it's a more full representation of the Christian God. What would you think of that?
Well, it wouldn't be prohibited by the First Amendment.
Would you ever consider doing that?
No, I haven't considered that but you know, if I did, I would have.
Would you have expected to have the same kind of legal fight over that?
How would you react to a Muslim judge doing something similar, inscribing a verse from the Qur'an on a monument and placing that on a federal courthouse?
Well, it wouldn't be representative of the history of this country and what we're founded upon. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be a violation of the First Amendment either; in other words, it's not prohibited by the First Amendment.