The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and several Montgomery attorneys who say they fear discrimination because they do not share Chief Justice Roy Moore's religious beliefs.
The lawsuit, being heard by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, contends that the monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the principle of separation of church and state.
In his opening statement, law center co-founder Morris Dees said Moore had campaigned on the pledge that he would "acknowledge God" if elected to the Supreme Court because he was "on a personal mission from God."
Herb Titus of Coral Ridge Ministries, representing Moore, said in his opening statement that the lawsuit was part of an effort to "censor God."
Moore, a Baptist, is the same judge who put a wooden plaque he carved with the Ten Commandments on the wall of his courtroom after he was elected as a circuit judge in rural Etowah County in 1994. He became chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000, and on Aug. 1, 2001, he wheeled in the washing machine-sized monument during the middle of the night without consulting fellow justices. "I am pleased to present this monument depicting the moral foundation of law, and hereby authorize it to be placed in the Rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building," he said that day.
Stephen Glassroth, one of the attorneys who sued Moore, testified Tuesday that he was shocked when the 4-foot-tall display was placed in the rotunda of the State Judicial Building. "Moore's display would be fine in a house of worship, but it's wholly inappropriate in a government facility." said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The legal system is for everyone -- not just those who belong to a religion that Roy Moore approves of," he said.
Moore kept the display in his Etowah County courtroom, even after a circuit judge ruled the display was unconstitutional. He appealed the decision to the Alabama Supreme Court, which dismissed the ruling on technical grounds. In February, Moore called homosexuality "an inherent evil" in a child custody ruling that involved a lesbian.
Alabama Atheists held a protest in front of the federal courthouse before the trial began on Tuesday.