A federal court says Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the state’s judicial office building is unconstitutional and must be removed.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Tuesday that the 2 1/2-ton granite monument represents an establishment of religion and thus violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.

“Chief Justice Moore testified candidly that his purpose in placing the monument in the Judicial Building was to acknowledge the law and sovereignty of the God of the Holy Scriptures, and that it was intended to acknowledge ‘God’s overruling power over the affairs of men,'” U.S. Circuit Judge Ed Carnes of Montgomery, Ala., wrote in the opinion.

If the court had accepted Moore’s position, “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,” Carnes said.

The court also rejected Moore’s contention that as Alabama’s chief judicial officer, he was not bound by federal court rulings, comparing it to arguments used by southern governors years ago to defy federal desegregation orders.

Groups advocating church-state separation hailed the ruling.

“This is a clear message from the courts: Thou shalt not merge church and state,” said Ayesha Khan, legal director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who argued the case in the courts. “Justice Moore is fighting a losing battle, and it’s time for him to stop wasting Alabama taxpayers’ money on this case.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, called the decision “a slam dunk for our side” and “a total defeat” for Moore.

Ralph Neas of People For the American Way called the ruling a “powerful affirmation of religious liberty.”

Moore’s lawyer promised to appeal the ruling. Attorney Herbert W. Titus called it “an example of federal judges censoring the chief justice for having views they do not share,” according to the Washington Post.

A Baptist layman, Moore became a hero to the Religious Right when, as a state court judge in Gadsden, Ala., he posted the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. After winning election as Alabama chief justice in November of 2000, he erected the Ten Commandments monument in the judicial building on the evening of July 31, 2001, and officially unveiled it the next day.

Jerry Falwell called Moore a “religious freedom hero” in a column last fall in Baptist Press.

Another first-person article in Baptist Press written by a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary termed Moore “a true Christian statesman.”

The SBC passed a resolution in 1997 supporting the practice of posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

A motion at the 1998 SBC annual meeting asking Southern Baptists to continue to support and pray for Moore, a “fellow Southern Baptist,” was ruled out of order for parliamentary reasons.

“Thank goodness that the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit protected the First Amendment and rejected Roy Moore’s attempt to smash a hole in the wall between church and state,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

“Regrettably, too many Baptists have bought into Moore’s false choice that one is either for the Bible, and hence for the public posting of the Ten Commandments, or one is against the Bible,” Parham said. “Thoughtful Baptists revere biblical teachings and respect a high wall of separation between church and state.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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