Louis A. Ruprecht Jr., Georgia State University
One of the dangers in reporting on the Republican presidential primaries, and now the looming presidential election season, is that national issues and agendas drown out any real connection to more local issues and concerns. I was reminded of this again last week as I drove through heavily wooded back roads of Alabama, and saw signage on trees relating to the primary election they held in back mid-March. Over and over again, I saw the name: Roy Moore.
It was a familiar name but it took a moment to recall why. Roy Moore was elected as the Alabama State Supreme Court Justice in 2000. He infamously arranged to have a two-ton granite display of the Ten Commandments placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building the next year. He did this in the middle of the night on July 31, 2001, without consulting the other Supreme Court justices. Moore was ordered by a US District Court to remove the monument and refused to do so. His eight colleagues overruled him, and the Ten Commandments monument was removed from the rotunda and taken on a nationwide fund-raising tour. Meanwhile, Alabama’s Judicial Ethics panel voted unanimously to remove Moore from his position on November 13, 2003.
Moore ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for state governor in 2006, losing by a 2 to 1 majority to the incumbent governor, Bob Riley. He tried again in 2010, but came in fourth with only 19% of the Republican vote. In 2011, Moore formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for the White House, but decided the odds were long, even by his risk taker’s standards.
And now Moore is back, running for his old job as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. And while he has promised not to try to restore the monument, his views on the very tenuous separation between the Christian religion and the southern states is very clear.
This time, Moore won his bid, and so now he will be on the ballot as the Republican candidate for State Supreme Court Justice in November. Moore has indicated that he does not wish to pick this fight a second time, and that the centerpiece of his understanding of judicial responsibility is how to adjudicate fairly and efficiently in a time of massive cuts in state spending in all social sectors, but especially for courts and policing.
Fair enough, but his re-election website tells a very different story, a story that makes the Ten Commandments monument, the subsequent debate it generated, and his eventual dismissal all central to his entire judicial philosophy. Moore’s own providential career, as he suggests quite clearly, has always hinged on the Ten Commandments. As the six-and-one-half minute video on his website makes clear, when God brought his future wife into his life in 1985, and shortly after they married, she was given the responsibility for decorating their new home. She placed a copy of the Ten Commandments prominently on the wall of that home.
Later, when Moore took up his duties as Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, he elected to bring that wall hanging into his courthouse. That decision prompted an immediate push-back from the ACLU, and the video suggests that this was what inspired Moore to up the ante by placing a much larger display in the rotunda in a manner that would be literally impossible to miss. His martyrdom to the cause of an inseparable church and state serves, he suggests, as “a reminder of our nation’s Godly heritage,” as well as of “the divine foundation of this nation.” Moore himself points to the real unity of his judicial career as a “long battle to recognize the sovereignty of God,” and to call the country back to its true identity as “one nation under God.” It is striking that the very next phrase of that pledge of allegiance—”indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”—is omitted from the video on his website.
It really almost has to be that way. For Roy Moore is divisive, intentionally so. And he speaks far more of God and religious rights than he does of liberty and justice for the non-Christian citizens in our midst. That seems a distinctly backward set of priorities for the chief justice in any state to possess in the twenty-first century.
Make no mistake about this; this is a big election with real legal and cultural and religious consequence. And it serves as a reminder of why we need to pay attention to more than just the presidential entries on the ballots, come November.