Judge Dismisses Suit Seeking Return of Commandments

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit seeking to return a 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument (search) to the lobby of the Alabama Judicial building (search).

The three residents who filed the suit claimed that removal of the monument would violate the constitution's protection of freedom of religion, but U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson (search) disagreed. He said the removal of the monument demonstrates government neutrality toward religion.

The ruling comes after a lengthy legal battle in a separate lawsuit that led to the granite monument's removal last week. In that case, Thompson ruled the monument an unconstitutional promotion of religion by government.

Suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore (search) had the monument moved into the judicial building in the middle of the night on July 31, 2001, saying it represents the moral foundation of American law. The monument soon became a symbol of the fight over the separation of church and state, drawing hundreds of protesters to Montgomery who decried its removal.

Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, said the ruling "shows the courts are now defining neutrality as the removal of all acknowledgment of God from the public square."

Ayesha Khan, an attorney for one of three groups that filed the original suit seeking removal of the monument, applauded the ruling. "Judge Thompson recognized that Justice Moore's monument shoves religion down people's throats," Khan said.

Jim Zeigler, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he has not decided whether to appeal Thompson's ruling.

Thompson's dismissal came a day after a spokeswoman for Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said Moore had turned down Musgrove's offer to publicly display the monument for a week at the Mississippi Capitol.

Also Thursday, about 150 supporters of Moore marched to the Alabama Capitol and presented a wooden plaque of the Ten Commandments to Gov. Bob Riley's chief of staff. The chief of staff said the governor would consult with lawyers before displaying the plaque.