There is another proposed bill facing the Alabama Legislature this year and it is AL HB-45 entitled: The Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment sponsored by State Representative Bridges. The title of the bill alone should cause pause. There is some background history to this bill being introduced that needs to be brought into the foreground. History that this bill conveniently ignores.
In 1992, Roy Moore was appointed as judge by Gov. Hunt to the Etowah County Circuit Court. As soon as he took office as judge, he placed on the walls of his courtroom a wooden engraving of the Ten Commandments. He also opened each court proceeding with a prayer that the jury would seek divine guidance in the deliberations of the trial. The ACLU sued stating that the presence of the Ten Commandments and pre-session prayer were unconstitutional. Initially Roy Moore lost the case and was ordered to remove the wooden plaque and to stop the pre-session prayers. There was a stay on the decision and an appeal was made but the court never ruled on the appeal, throwing it out on technicalities. The plaque remained and presumably the prayers continued.
In 1999, Moore ran for Chief Justice on the platform that Alabama must return “God to our public life and restore the moral foundation of our law.” He won election. Shortly there after he began plans to have made a 5K plus pound granite structure that would have inscribed on it various quotes from founders of the nation topped with the Ten Commandments chiseled into tablets.
At the unveiling of this monument, Moore stated, “Today a cry has gone out across our land for the acknowledgment of that God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded….May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land.” The presence of the monument and Judge Moore’s stance regarding it resulted in a lawsuit that went to the Eleventh Circuit of Appeals. The ruling was the monument had to be removed. Moore refused to comply with the ruling. He lost the appeal. He refused to comply with the court order to remove the monument. The monument was eventually moved from the rotunda to a room out of view of the public and eventually removed from the Judicial building in 2004. There was a complaint of ethics violation filed with the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. At the hearing Moore stated,
“To acknowledge God cannot be a violation of the Canons of Ethics. Without God there can be no ethics,” Moore testified.He also reiterated his stance that, given another chance to fulfill the court order, he again would refuse to do so. When one panelist, Circuit Judge J. Scott Vowell of Birmingham, asked Moore what he would do with the monument if he were returned to office, the chief justice said he had not decided, but added: “I certainly wouldn’t leave it in a closet, shrouded from the public.”
Moore was removed from office in 2003. In 2012, Moore was re-elected to the role of Chief Justice.
This is the historical background of HB-45, Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment. This amendment to the 1901 State Constitution (yes, Alabama’s self-identified white supremacist Constitution is still in place.) “would propose a constitutional amendment which would provide that property belonging to the state may be used to display the Ten Commandments and that the right to display the Ten Commandments on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body is not restrained or abridged.”
This amendment is clearly an attempt to allow Chief Justice Moore to reinstate his monolith in the Alabama Supreme Court building in full violation of separation of church and state as he promised he would do if re-elected to office. In fact the amendment describes the monument in how the Ten Commandments could be displayed. The fact that the Ten Commandments represents a specific religious background–namely the Abrahamic Faiths of Judaism and Christianity this establishes a state religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Could the tenets of Sharia Law be posted on public grounds? No. Could there be a plaque of the Unitarian Universalists’ Seven Principles posted? No. What about the Wiccan’s creed? No. The Dao? No.
This bill, if passed, would come up for vote in a general election. We must not let such discriminatory and preferential language be added to our state constitution. This amendment moves Alabama closer to being a theocracy than a democracy. We cannot allow our religious freedoms to be so narrowly defined under the Judeo-Christian rubric as this amendment would do.