The controversial Alabama judge who has refused to remove a wooden replica of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom defended his position in Washington Thursday, saying his actions are part of his duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
"We are a nation founded on a higher law. . . . I know what the Constitution says," said Alabama Circuit Court Judge Roy S. Moore at a ceremony in his honor at the U.S. Capitol.
Moore, a judge in the Etowah County Circuit Court, has generated a national controversy by displaying a plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and opening his court sessions with prayers by a Protestant minister. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to eliminate the plaque and the prayers, and lawsuits are pending before the Alabama Supreme Court.
Republican Alabama Gov. Fob James has said publicly that federal authorities would have to "run over the state troopers and the National Guard" if they tried to remove the plaque.
On Thursday, Moore was honored at a ceremony organized by the National Clergy Council, which describes itself as a Washington-based "informal network" of Catholic and Protestant clergy "who share a common concern about the moral deterioration in American culture."
In remarks during the ceremony, Moore criticized "rogue" activists who he said have "convinced (the American people) that the First Amendment precludes the acknowledgment of God." The notion of the separation of church and state "is a lie," Moore said.
"This government and this nation were founded on the God of the holy Scriptures," said Moore, adding that morality based on the Ten Commandments is vital to nation's future.
When asked whether he would also allow a Muslim or a Buddhist to pray in his court, Moore responded, "Somebody in my courtroom would not offer a Buddhist or Muslim prayer" because only those clergy "who acknowledge the God upon which this nation was founded" are invited to pray.
Also appearing at the ceremony were U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, both Alabama Republicans, and Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Republican congressman who represents the district where Moore's courtroom is located.
Aderholt sponsored a non-binding House resolution adopted on March 5 that expresses support for Moore and asserts that the "public display, including display in government offices and courthouses, of the Ten Commandments, should be permitted."
Shelby said he would be introducing a similar measure in the Senate.
Several Jewish organizations and civil liberties groups have been highly critical of Moore's stance. "I've got a commandment for Congress and Judge Moore: "Thou shalt not play politics with religion,'
" said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.