Published August 22, 2003
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (search), who has fought to keep a Ten Commandments (search) monument in the state's judicial building, vowed Thursday that the battle "to defend our constitutional right to acknowledge God must and will continue.
"I will never deny the God upon whom our laws and country depend," Moore said in a fiery defense of the 5,300-pound granite marker, as supporters cheered and prayed on the building's steps.
The monument was still in the building's rotunda early Thursday evening, and court officials did not say when or where it would be moved.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson (search), who had ruled the monument's placement violated the Constitution's ban on government promotion of a religious doctrine, has said it could be moved to a private place still within the building. He had threatened $5,000-a-day fines if Moore left the monument in the public rotunda.
Moore installed the monument two years ago and contends it represents the moral foundation of American law.
"Not only did Judge Thompson put himself above the law, but above God as well," Moore told his supporters Thursday.
The chief justice had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the removal order, but the court rejected it Wednesday. Moore said Thursday he would file a formal appeal with the high court soon "to defend our constitutional right to acknowledge God."
"I cannot forsake my conscience," he said.
His supporters, meanwhile, promised to block any effort to remove the monument.
"We will kneel at the doors. We will prevent forklifts or trucks from coming in," said Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, which is organizing around-the-clock demonstrations.
Moore's eight colleagues on the state Supreme Court intervened after Thompson's midnight deadline for removing the monument passed and the monument remained. In ordering the monument moved, the justices said they were "bound by solemn oath to follow the law."
Justice Gorman Houston said all eight instructed building manager Graham George to "take all steps necessary to comply" with the removal order. George declined to comment when asked when, how or where the monument would be moved.
Attorney General Bill Pryor filed a notice with the federal district court after the justices' issued their order and said he believed that would remove any risk of fines.
Taxpayers "should not be punished for the refusal of the chief justice to follow a federal court order," he said.
A partition was put in front of the monument early Thursday but was removed after about three hours. Houston said the building manager may have erected it to comply with the order.
Gov. Bob Riley said in a statement that he supports public displays of the Ten Commandments, but also supports the decision of associate justices to "uphold the rule of law."
In his speech Thursday, Moore said he was "disappointed with my colleagues" and lashed out at "this so-called rule of law" that they cited. He said such blind obedience would have allowed slavery to continue.
Richard Hahnemann of Huntsville, the monument's sculptor, said he expects voters to remember what the justices did come election day.
"They have their opinion. Justice Moore was elected by the people to do what he did," Hahnemann said.
Richard Cohen, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which sued along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- praised the eight justices.
"Their courageous actions reflect that Justice Moore is a disgrace to the bench and ought to resign or be removed from office," Cohen said.
Still, protesters outside the building said they were willing to stand in the Alabama heat and risk arrest for days or weeks to keep the monument inside. Twenty-one were arrested Wednesday night on trespassing charges for refusing to leave the monument when the building was closing.
Stephen Hopkins, pastor of Burnet Bible Church in Burnet, Texas, was one of those arrested. He said he was willing to be arrested even though he has 10 children.
"This is a great hypocrisy," Hopkins said. "This is an assault on God. They're saying we're going to cover up God."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.