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Alabama's ayatollah

Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has chosen the wrong country in which to be a judge. Moore has far greater affinity with the ayatollahs in Iran or the ecclesiastical jurists in Rome than with American judges who have an obligation to respect the Constitution.

In 2001, Moore plunked down a 5,000-pound stone copy of the Ten Commandments in the middle of the Alabama State Judicial Building, where his court and others are housed. Moore said it was intended to acknowledge "God's overruling power over the affairs of men."

While many of the nation's judges are men and women of deep faith, Moore has allowed his religious zeal to influence his job. The Ten Commandments monument was installed without prior notice and at night _ and with only the evangelical Coral Ridge Ministries there to witness and videotape the scene. (The tape was used to raise defense funds for the lawsuit Moore knew was coming.)

Moore has been through this controversy before. As a trial court judge, he was sued for hanging a wooden plaque of the Ten Commandments behind his bench. The legal battle put Moore into the public spotlight and gave him a platform from which to launch a successful run for the top judicial job in the state. He ran as the "Ten Commandments Judge."

This week, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the religious monument violates the Constitution. The court refused to go along with Moore's sweeping claims that the Establishment Clause proscribes only laws promoting religion and not other governmental actions. "If we adopted (this) position," said the appellate court, "the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court's courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench. Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises."

Moore also didn't succeed with his demand that he, as the head of a state branch of government, was not subject to the judgment of the 11th Circuit. To this, the court referred to the similar misjudgments of George Wallace and Ross Barnett, "Southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders during an earlier era." The court warned Moore that once all his appeals were exhausted, "the court order will be enforced. The rule of law will prevail."

Moore's above-the-law moralism comes straight out of the segregation-forever mold of discredited Southern officials. In a case before him last year involving a custody request by a lesbian mother, Moore wrote an antigay rant worthy of any Religious Right preacher, calling homosexuality "a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one's ability to describe it."

Moore is a justice who doesn't know how to do his constitutional duty without having his intolerant religious views get in the way. He was elevated to the highest seat in the Alabama judicial system based on his willingness to defy church-state separation _ a sad commentary on the Alabama electorate. Now he is doing mischief to the Constitution he promised to uphold. His defiance must not stand.