Alabama Court Battle Over Ten Commandments Monument

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 25, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The Ten Commandments (search) are heading back to court. Supporters of the monument have filed a lawsuit to try to block its remove from an Alabama judicial bombing...

Joining us now, a man who has been following the Roy's rock issue since it first came about in 1995. Morris Dees, the lawyers for the plaintiff against [Alabama Chief Justice] Roy Moore (search)'s monument. Mr. Dees, that's today's big question. Why is Moore trying to make a mountain out of this monument?

MICHAEL DEES, CHIEF TRIAL COUNSEL: Well, I think Judge Moore is very sincere in his beliefs that our country has, over the past 50 years, had more crime. We've had more teen pregnancies, the whole issue of abortion has arisen and he sincerely believes that this is because the federal courts in this country have removed God from the public square, meaning having Bible reading in schools and a monument like this put in our Supreme Court (search) building. And I don't quibble with his passion for his beliefs, only that it may or may not be so. I seriously doubt if the not having this monument would have anything to do with the crime rate in America or the moral decay or incline of America.

I do, though, know that the founders of this country, for very wise reasons, created a barrier between church and state that's been existing since the beginning of this country. Thomas Jefferson said those words, "a wall of separation between church and state." And that's what this case is about. It's not about acknowledging God. Any president of the United States always takes an oath of office, acknowledging God. President Clinton, President Bush, President Ford, every one. President Carter was a very Christian man who went to the White House and expounded Christian values.

But he didn't try to move in a 5,000-pound open-Bible-type-monument… into the White House rotunda, saying, “I have [to have] these Ten Commandments here”… Jimmy Carter (search) didn't do that because it clearly violates the Constitution of the United States.

GIBSON: Mr. Dees, a lot of people worry, though, that what's really going on is that organizations like yours, in taking on the case against Judge Moore, are really working for the removal of any mention of God in every place it is in the American government — on the money, in the oath of office for the president, on the walls of the U.S. Supreme Court. Is that a reasonable worry?

DEES: Oh, that's not even a worry. That's nonsensical… that is not a monument like this put in this building with the stated purpose that God is above the state and we must acknowledge God. Roy Moore made this very clear. In the U.S. — let me state this…

GIBSON: Let me say this. You have put your finger on it. This is a fight about Justice Moore, not the Ten Commandments, not that block of stone in the judicial building.

DEES: I didn't say that.

GIBSON: But you just said ...

DEES: No, I didn't. I said it is not about ...

GIBSON: You said Justice Moore has stated the reason he wants that block of stone there. The block of stone is almost irrelevant to the argument. It is Justice Moore's reasons that cause all of this opposition to the block of stone.

DEES: I think that if you're representing him, and you made that position, you'd lose the case. If Justice Moore hadn't moved this in in the middle of the night as he did and said nothing, taped his mouth shout, the ruling would be the same. Because the federal judge and a state judge would rule the same thing. Our attorney general is taking a position that Justice Moore has to obey the law. Suppose he put a 10-foot-tall Christian cross on top of the courthouse or behind the bench and put big letters, "What would Jesus do in this case," it would be no different.

GIBSON: Mr. Dees, I agree with you totally. Justice Moore has an obligation to follow laws of which he himself is a judge, but what I'm detecting in the opposition to Justice Moore now is more opposition to what he is saying about the Ten Commandments and its place in his building and in government than the actual document, the Ten Commandments, or the monument itself.

DEES: Well, no, that's clearly not correct. You know these so-called crowds of demonstrators there? They're not local people. They're outside agitators who've come to Montgomery. There's probably 100 or 200 at the most. They tried to get the local ministers and local people of Alabama down and they've been singularly unsuccessful. In the U.S. Supreme Court, there is about 15 statutes of various great law givers, Justinian, Hammurabi and Moses, along with many others. And there is a tiny plaque in Moses' hands around the top of the Supreme Court that has nothing but numbers, one or 10 on the front of it. But that's not dealing with this event. That's teaching religion and its role as a history subject. Not as the dominant feature promoting a particular brand of religion.

To say that the U.S. Supreme Court has this in it is nonsensical and nobody is trying to remove that. That has been there for many years. And many courthouses have similar things. What you have here is a monument that is exclusive to one religion and in the most prominent position you could put it. When someone attempted to put other monuments in the building, Judge Moore refused. In other words, he is saying, “This isn't a public square. This is my private little thing here and I'm going to put these here in this building.” And the first thing on it says "Thou shall have no other God before you and thou shall keep the Sabbath holy." I don't know any other religion he is talking about but Christianity.

GIBSON: Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center (search). Mr. Dees, thank you very much. We'll see how this thing works out.

DEES: Thank you.

GIBSON: Appreciate it.

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