He usually stops at nine laps, but not today. Today, even though the heat and humidity refuse to join the sun in disappearing for the night, even though he's already worked up a respectable sweat by throwing weights around for the better part of an hour, Roy Moore has decided to take one more trip around the oval out in back of the Prattville, Ala., YMCA.
This is of absolutely zero interest to the half dozen men and women sharing the track with him - and why should it be? Out here, he's just another guy in a T-shirt and jogging shorts looking to burn off whatever energy's left after a 10-hour workday. Even if they did notice some stranger was pushing himself a little harder today, they'd be oblivious to how that extra fifth of a mile helps explain why this stranger is arguably the most loved and most hated man in Alabama.
See, all the things it takes to conquer a 10th lap when nine is your norm - confidence, training, endurance, faith and the unshakeable certainty that giving up is not an option - those aren't qualities Roy Moore exhibits only in running shoes. He's lived by them, lived off them, all his life, a 55-year journey of ups and turns and downs and twists that now finds him, as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, looking to set a legal precedent from the other side of the bench. This fall, he'll head to federal court to defend his placement of a Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building - and if you don't think the other side is in for the fight of its life, well, you didn't see him attack that last lap of black asphalt.
"This has to be answered," Moore says of the issue that's become his calling card. "This country wasn't founded upon Allah; it wasn't founded upon the Quran. It was founded upon the Holy Bible. And the question is whether we're going to take a stand and acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our law, because historically we could."
The story of how Moore came to be known nationwide as the "Ten Commandments judge" traditionally begins in 1992, when he hung a homemade rosewood plaque etched with God's laws in his Etowah County courtroom. The American Civil Liberties Union sued him, alleging a violation of the separation of church and state; Moore didn't just refuse to take the plaque down, he refused to acknowledge that America's founders ever intended church and state to be separate. The case got thrown out, and the judge parlayed the popularity his stand earned him into a successful run for the top job in the state's highest court - where he promptly commissioned a 2 1/2-ton stone monument of the Commandments and the ACLU promptly sued him again.
As Moore himself will tell you, though, no three-sentence summary of the last decade can adequately describe how God brought him to this moment and what He's brought him through en route. To tell that story, you have to go all the way back to Feb. 11, 1947. That was the day Roy Stuart Moore was born - an arrival that came, not so coincidentally as it turns out, less than 24 hours after a ruling was issued in Everson v. Board of Education, the first case in modern history in which the U.S. Supreme Court said there was, indeed, a constitutionally mandated separation between church and state.
"I came from a very humble background," Moore says matter-of-factly, with a drawl that's standard-issue this side of the Mason-Dixon line. "We moved around a lot, to Texas when I was in the first or second grade, then back here. I changed schools six or seven times, and after we got back to Alabama we seemed to have lost all level of income.
"We didn't even have an indoor toilet when I was in high school," he adds. "We plowed with mules. Cut wood with a crosscut saw. When I was president of the student body, I was cleaning tables after other kids. That's how I got my food."
"He worried about people who didn't have things," Moore says. "That's the way my daddy was - he'd give you the shirt off his back."
Today, Roy Baxter Moore's influence is easy to spot in his eldest son. You can hear it in the poetry the judge has been writing since 1980, sweet, simple rhymes with titles like "The Faded Black Book" and "One More Day" that explore the sufficiency of God's provision and loving your neighbor as yourself. You can see it in the chief justice's disdain of position - even though his job comes with a salary of more than $150,000 and status as one of state's most powerful men, none of Montgomery's country clubs can count him as a member. And if you do happen to recognize him at the Y, you also can spot his dad's influence in the two words screened on his gray T-shirt: West Point.
"In the ninth grade, I had seen a movie about the United States Military Academy, and it just aroused something in me," Moore says. So, with the encouragement of his parents, he studied hard and prayed for a miracle - and the appointment finally came.
"I remember very distinctly my daddy hocking his toolbox to get the $300 to get me physically to the academy," he recalls. "We didn't have to live off anyone."
Moore entered West Point in 1965, lost his father two years later, graduated two years after that, got stationed in Germany for 16 months and eventually landed in Vietnam. It was there, as a military police officer and company commander nicknamed "Captain America," that Capt. Moore got his first taste of the costs associated with standing up for ethical and moral absolutes. Refusing to look the other way when he caught fellow soldiers sleeping on guard duty or doing drugs, he became a marked man.
"I handed out a lot of Article 15s, and that didn't make me very popular," he remembers. "At night, I used to take sandbags and put them under my bed and around my barrack so that if anyone exploded anything it wouldn't kill me."
Moore survived Vietnam; his reverence for the military of that era did not. And it wouldn't be the last time disillusionment prompted him to abandon a career path he'd spent years clearing.
A painstaking archivist of his own life, Roy Moore has about a dozen scrapbooks brimming with photos, old school records, court documents and laminated copies of just about every newspaper or magazine article that's ever mentioned his name. The thickest of these - no surprise there - are the volumes documenting his Ten Commandments controversies. But by far the most colorful date back to the 1970s and early '80s.
"There was a lot of pent-up animosity, and I wanted to release it physically," Moore says of his foray into hand-to-hand combat. "I trained for eight months. Hard. Running on the beach with weights, thousands of sit-ups, thousands of push-ups. I was in better shape than I was in college."
He fought just once, easily dispatching a third-degree black belt - even though he was no degree of black belt at all. How did he do it? "It really was just setting a goal. Once I did that, no one was going to beat me. They just weren't."
While karate helped Moore rid himself of the anger that led him to abandon the law, roughing it in the outback helped him connect more deeply to the God Who led him back to it.
"It was like going back in America 100 years. It was wonderful," he recalls. "Everything was built by hand; we drank rainwater that was gathered in a barrel on the roof. We killed cattle when we wanted meat. We stripped it right there on the field.
"The experience just gave me a bigger perspective of life. It was something God gave me that I didn't know existed. It showed me that all my efforts to do what I wanted to do, when they were defeated, ended up in a blessing."
Refreshed and refocused, Moore returned to America and opened a law practice. Things went well professionally for a while, then took a turn toward better-than-ever personally during Christmas 1984.
"I was reading my poetry at a dinner at somebody's house, something an attorney friend had set up," he remembers. "So I went in and did one of my Christmas poems and I couldn't . . . Kayla was there and I kept messing up the poem."
Kayla is now Kayla Moore, his wife of 16 years and mother to their four children - Heather, Roy, Caleb and Micah. Ask him why he decided to marry her after surviving 39 years of bachelorhood, and he'll grin like a schoolboy and joke that she tricked him. Ask her why she fell for him, and she'll tell you what you've pretty much already gathered from all those "Ten Commandments judge" stories you've read.
"He was a very godly man; I could tell that right off," Kayla says. "And that impressed me - the way he spoke, the way he carried himself, the way he worked with other people, the poetry he wrote. Of course, I wasn't interested in a relationship or anything, so I tried to avoid him.
"But he kept on coming."
"When I got it, I told everybody, `God put me here,' " he recalls. "And I went home one day and looked up on the wall and there was the Ten Commandments plaque and I said, `Well, I'll put that up [in the courtroom].' And my first thought was, `I'll get sued. And I don't want to get sued and I don't want to lose the job.'
"Then another thought occurred to me; I remember it crystal clear: `I thought you said I put you here.' I didn't hear voices, I'm not saying that, but I realized I had told everybody that God put me here, now this plaque was honoring God and I couldn't display it? I was ashamed?"
The plaque went up, of course. And Moore devoted himself to discovering the truth about this separation of church and state the ACLU was always crowing about. He dug deep into the writings of the English legal scholar Sir William Blackstone, whose commentaries inspired America's founders; spent hundreds of hours memorizing long passages of the Bible, the Constitution and scores of historical documents and diaries, chewing the earpieces of his eyeglasses to distortion while pondering the most minute detail of where and when Thomas Jefferson prayed or the care Congress took to make sure "under God" was not set off with commas when the phrase was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. He emerged convinced, and prepared to convince everybody else, that there was no law on the books, no freedom enjoyed by Americans, that had not come first from the Creator.
"These were things that had never been taught me, never been taught other lawyers," he says. "It was a different kind of education. It was inquiring, it was absorbing the truth, and I couldn't get enough."
Moore campaigned for chief justice in 2000 on the promise that he would acknowledge such truth in administering the laws of Alabama. He's done it not only by placing the Ten Commandments monument in the judicial building rotunda, where it's become a tourist attraction for visitors from as far away as Wisconsin; but also by issuing bold opinions rooted in legal, historical and biblical fact - including one earlier this year that denied a lesbian custody of her children, in which he referred to homosexuality as "a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God."
He's not sure how it's going to go when he squares off against the ACLU again in a few months, but he has never been more certain that the cause is worth fighting - and sacrificing - for.
"I've lived over half my life, and my kids are coming up," he says. "To see the deceit and where the world is going because we've turned our back on God, I can't sit back and stand still.
"Speaking is good and it motivates people, but speaking is not going to provide the example. I'm poised to provide the example. I'm poised to give up, if I must, what God has given me.
"If they want to get the Commandments," he adds with an assured smile, "they'll have to get me first."