07/20/2004

Ten Commandments Monument on the Move

The Ten Commandments monument at the center of a Center legal battle for religious tolerance was removed yesterday from the Alabama Judicial Building and is on a summer road trip leading to the nation's capitol.

The 5,280-pound block of granite was brought out of the building by a veterans' group nearly a year after it was moved from the rotunda and placed in a storage room. A federal judge, in a case brought by the Center on behalf of a Montgomery lawyer, had ruled the prominent display was an unconstitutional promotion of religion by government.

The monument was placed on a flatbed truck, covered in a green tarpaulin and driven to an undisclosed location. Its first public display is scheduled for July 31 in Dayton, Tenn.

"We think it is perfectly appropriate for a private group to take the Ten Commandments monument on a tour to promote its views, even if we happen to disagree with those positions," said Center president Richard Cohen.

"What's wrong is for a public official, like former Chief Justice Roy Moore, to use the power of his office to promote his own religious beliefs. Religious proselytizing by private groups is the American way; proselytizing by a public official violates the Constitution," Cohen said.

The group, American Veterans Standing for God and Country, plans to take the granite marker across several states in the South, Midwest and Northeast before arriving in Washington, D.C., in October. The group is affiliated with American Veterans in Domestic Defense, which lists a "failed judicial system" among its "domestic enemies."

Moore lost his job as Alabama's top judge for refusing to obey the court order to move the marker.

"I hope that this is the end to this event, which has been tragic, comic and dramatic, and that we can get on with the business of the court, " said Justice Gorman Houston, who ordered the monument removed from the rotunda last year after Moore defied the order.