Roy Moore Has a Point. (8/22/03)
Roy Moore has a point. Justice Moore is Chief of the Alabama Supreme Court, the guy who ordered the Ten Commandments posted in Alabama’s Judicial Building. Moore knew Christian-hating left-wingers would oppose the Decalogue’s display so he had it carved onto a 5,400 pound slab of granite to slow them down.
After a removal deadline set by a Federal judge expired, the Associate Justices of the Alabama Supreme Court ordered the rock shielded from public view by a partition, then ordered its removal over Moore’s objections.
"This is an example of what is happening in this country: the acknowledgment of God as the moral foundation of law in this nation is being hidden from us," Moore said in a statement.
Moore has a point, but he’s still wrong. His valid point is that our concern about maintaining the separation of Church and State seemingly prevents us from acknowledging the religious origins of secular law. In that sense it is entirely true that “the acknowledgment of God as the moral foundation of law in this nation is being hidden from us.”
One does not need to be Christian or Jewish, or practice any religion, to acknowledge that belief in a rule-making god is a key moral foundation of secular law. Such an acknowledgment probably is not prohibited by the Constitution either.
The difficulty is in acknowledging a historical fact without promoting a specific religious belief. Moore overreaches historically by suggesting that religious law is the sole moral foundation of secular law. Then he violates the Establishment Clause in two ways, first by citing God, and not human belief in God, as the foundational source (thereby officially endorsing belief in God), and second by choosing a version of the Ten Commandments generally associated with a particular religious tradition, Protestant Christianity.
By choosing a version of the Ten Commandments associated with a particular tradition, Moore’s monument tends to endorse that tradition to the exclusion of all others, exactly the type of “establishment” action the framers sought to prevent.
This is reasoning a distinguished jurist such as Moore should be able to understand. Therefore, he may believe his monument’s legal flaws are mere technicalities that pale before the significance of its message. Moore may not quite be on to something. Perhaps what the ancients knew that we have forgotten is that some individuals will obey the law only if they believe it has divine endorsement. Does a Ten Commandments in the courthouse deter crime? Perhaps we mask the religious origins of secular law at our peril. I don’t happen to believe this, but it might be an interesting topic to discuss.
Unfortunately, we won’t have that discussion. Instead, both sides will address their own core constituencies (i.e., “preach to the choir”) exclusively. No common ground will be sought. Moore’s big rock will be moved to another location calculated, no doubt, to fuel the controversy, but his good point will be lost. Government in the proper context should be able to acknowledge secular authority’s debt to religious authority in the evolution of the rule of law without violating the First Amendment. Would it bring the secularists and theocrats closer together if that happened? It might be worth a try. We should work on that.
© 2003, Charles Kendrick Cowdery, All Rights Reserved.