November 6, 2003

Religion in our court rooms?

It all started when Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, placed a 2.6-ton monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of Alabama's state judicial building. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the monument was unconstitutional, and ordered that it be removed from the public area. Moore refused to comply with the judge's decision and was suspended by his fellow justices. The monument has since been removed from public view, and recently the Supreme Court declined to hear Moore's appeal.

One of the many problems with Moore's stance is that he feels that only Judeo-Christian values and symbols should be allowed in the public square. In fact, Moore has made it clear that he does not even consider Buddhism and Hinduism to be religions. Therefore, in effect, Moore wants the state to give people the right to "honor" Judeo-Christian values in the public square but actively disallow followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam from honoring their religions in the same fashion. I am sure Moore and his followers would recall the Ides of March if a Sikh judge placed a statue of one of Sikhism's founders in a courthouse. Moore's views, if put into practice, would mean the end of secularism because the state would not only respect the establishment of religions, but would also arrange these religions in a hierarchy, with Judaism and Christianity at the top and all others equally unmeritorious. The founding fathers of this country wanted America to be a secular state, and thus the First Amendment they made to the Constitution laid the foundation for the principle of separation of church and state, which has been unanimously upheld by the courts for more than 200 years. Moore's ideas also contradict the Equal Rights Protection of the Constitution. The violation of the Equal Rights Protection clause arises when a state grants a particular class of individuals the right to engage in a particular activity yet denies other individuals the same right. In Moore's America, only Christians would be free to use their own public offices and authority to recognize their beliefs.

It has also been argued that the monument is appropriate because the Ten Commandments are part of a tradition on which the laws of our country are based. This view is simply untrue. There is nothing in the Constitution to suggest that our laws are inspired by the Bible or that they need to be in compliance with it. The courts in America do not base their verdicts on the Gospel. It is not illegal to dishonor one's parents, worship an entity other than the God of Moses, or have sexual relations with another man's wife, all acts clearly forbidden in the Ten Commandments. Moore's position would be slightly reasonable if the laws of America were in accordance with the laws of the Bible. But they are not. It is fine for Moore to believe that the Ten Commandments are the laws of nature, but for him to use public funds and public property to express his religious views is a clear violation of the doctrine of separation of church and state.

What I find to be extremely outrageous is that many of Moore's supporters justify his defiance of the law by comparing him to the civil rights protestors who refused to comply with racist laws. People like Rosa Parks were private citizens who disobeyed laws that sought to degrade and oppress a group of people due to the color of their skin. Moore is a judicial officer who has taken an oath to uphold the law, and who has violated that oath in his effort to promote his own religious and political beliefs. A few weeks ago some sections of the press reported that even many conservative Republican congressmen feel that Moore is just vying for popularity and political clout. I commend conservatives who agree that extracting political mileage by threatening the plurality and secular nature of America is dangerous and divisive.

It is alarming to note the increasing tide of intolerance and self-righteousness posing as conservatism in America. Alabama's Attorney General Bill Pryor, who also happens to have been nominated by President Bush for the position of U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit, said at a Save the Commandments rally on the steps of the Alabama Supreme Court that "God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians to save our country and our courts." The federal judiciary has done a tremendous job in recent times to uphold secular and fair values in America. If people like Pryor become federal judges, what will prevent Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, and Christians whose religious views differ from those of people like Moore and Pryor from becoming second-class citizens?