(CNSNews.com) - The man at the center of the Ten Commandments dispute in Alabama remained defiant Thursday in the face of a federal court order to remove a sculpture of the commandments from the state judicial building in Montgomery.
"I have no intention of removing the monument of the Ten Commandments and the moral foundation of our law," said Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore at a press conference in the lobby of the judicial building. "To do so would in effect be a disestablishment of the justice system of this state. This I cannot and will not do."
Moore said he would file a writ of prohibition and mandamus with the U.S. Supreme Court directing U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson, who wrote the decision ordering the Ten Commandments' removal, "to stop this wrongful interference with state government." If approved, it would bar Thompson from attempting to remove the sculpture.
The move set off immediate sparks of protest from groups devoted to what they refer to as "the separation of church and state." Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), called Moore's refusal to remove the Ten Commandments monument "discouraging."
"He (Moore) wanted his media circus; well, he's going to get it," Boston told CNSNews.com, adding that such a spectacle was also "important" to other Alabama government officials, particularly Republicans Gov. Bob Riley and state Attorney General William Pryor.
Pryor has been nominated by President George W. Bush to fill a vacancy on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court that upheld Judge Thompson's decision, but U.S. Senate Democrats are conducting a filibuster to prevent Pryor's nomination from coming up for a vote.
On Thursday, Moore addressed the challenge facing him and other top Republicans in the state.
"Not only will Judge Thompson be served with this writ of prohibition, but also all state officials who have been served with (Thompson's) notice of his injunction (to remove the sculpture), will be served as well," Moore said. "I will uphold my oath to the Constitution of the United States as well as the Constitution of the state of Alabama. It yet remains to be seen what other state officials will do who have been served in the face of this abuse of power, for each of them has also taken an oath to the Constitution of the United States."
Moore's refusal to remove the Ten Commandments sculpture further complicates Pryor's ability to win Senate confirmation as a circuit court judge. Pryor, as the chief law enforcement officer in the state of Alabama, is duty-bound to carry out court rulings. And any refusal to remove the Ten Commandments monument would further prove his unfitness for the bench, Pryor's critics say.
Recently, AU attacked Pryor for designating two attorneys representing Moore in the Ten Commandments dispute as deputy attorneys general. According to press reports, Pryor bestowed the title upon the lawyers because they were representing a state official. Pryor's office did not return calls to CNSNews.com Thursday.
"I think the bottom line is: Bill Pryor needs to rein in his appointees who seem to think that Judge Moore doesn't need to obey a federal court order," AU Executive Director Barry Lynn told NBC13.com in Birmingham when asked why he wrote a letter to Pryor protesting the deputization. "It is an outrageous position for any deputy attorney general to take. They are on the record. They do not think a federal court order applies to them."
As for Moore's latest move in the Ten Commandments case, Boston called it "legal hot air."
"I'm confident that all of this will end with that monument of the Ten Commandments being removed," Boston said.
But Tom Hinton, director of state relations at the Heritage Foundation, dismissed criticism of Moore, saying he was on "solid ground" as far as the question of states' rights was concerned.
"He's not kooky, he's on solid constitutional grounds," Hinton told CNSNews.com. "I wish more states would take such a stand."
Moore said he would "in the very near future" also file a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to hear an appeal of the lower court case called Glassroth v. Moore. The Thompson order gave Moore until Aug. 20 to remove the statue and warned that if he refused, fines up to $5,000 per day could be levied against Moore, "and thus the state of Alabama itself, until the monument is removed."
Rallies in support of Moore's position are planned for Saturday, Aug. 16, and Wednesday, Aug. 20 - Thompson's deadline.
"This is going to be a rallying point against all of those who have been trying in every way they can to drive [out] all expression of faith and...establish in essence a religion of atheism in our society," former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes told CNSNews.com this week. Keyes plans to attend Saturday's rally in Montgomery.
"I think the battle lines are drawn, and what's clear is that...we have got to fight back. For too long, the people of this country have been willing to allow this destruction of their basic right to religious freedom. For decades, we have allowed its erosion and the open assault against it, and it's got to be stopped now, or we will have to answer to future generations for allowing one of the most seminal and fundamental rights of liberty to be destroyed, and if it goes, quickly thereafter fall all the rest."
The group American Atheists has also scheduled a counter-rally in Montgomery on Saturday.
See Earlier Story:
__Congressman Seeks to Protect Alabama's Ten Commandments Monument (Aug. 14, 2003)
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