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Ten Commandments Debate Shifts to National Stage

Robert B. Bluey | Staff Writer | Thursday, September 18, 2003

Ten Commandments Debate Shifts to National Stage

(CNSNews.com) - After spending much of the past year defending the Ten Commandments display in an Alabama courthouse, several activists are hoping to move the debate to the national stage in the coming weeks.

A five-state "Save the Commandments Caravan" is slated to commence on Sept. 28 in Montgomery, Ala., home to the 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore displayed in the rotunda of the state judicial building.

The caravan will make stops in three state capitals on its way to Washington, D.C., where defenders of the monument plan to hold a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Moore's defenders are keeping an eye on Congress. This week, the embattled judge, who is serving a suspension for disobeying a court order, offered the monument to Congress for display in the U.S. Capitol.

"By its very action as the elected representatives of the American people, Congress would restore the balance of power between the branches of government and would send a message to federal courts that we, the people, have the final word on our inalienable right to acknowledge God," Moore said in a statement.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) welcomed Moore's "generous offer," but no official decision has been made. Earlier in the week, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he had not received a formal letter from Moore.

Even though supporters of Moore acknowledge that displaying the Ten Commandments in the Capitol would likely prompt an intense fight, it hasn't stopped them from pursuing the idea.

The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, said displaying the monument in the Capitol would be the quickest way for lawmakers to send federal judges a message.

"The fact that so many individuals and groups are demanding the public acknowledgment of God indicates the seriousness of the issue and the necessity of public officials to act to secure our rights," said Schenck, who recently led a two-week rally in Montgomery defending Moore.

Schenck is organizing the upcoming five-state caravan with the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. The two activists generated an outpouring of support for Moore in Montgomery and hope to spur the same enthusiasm on their trip.

They announced their plans Wednesday outside the Supreme Court. In order for the effort to be successful, Schenck said, there needs to be an outpouring of support, either in the form of citizens writing to members of Congress or congregations busing people to the rallies.

Schenck and Mahoney aren't alone in their efforts. Mark Iain Sutherland, president of the Positive Action Coalition, has also drummed up support for Moore. He said the coalition's action alerts have prompted thousands of people to contact their elected representatives.

"Congress is designed in such a way that it's answerable to the people," Sutherland said. "Congress needs to step up and display the Ten Commandments."

Sutherland also hopes Congress goes a step further and enacts a law designed to protect Ten Commandments displays like the one Moore housed in the Alabama courthouse.

Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.) has introduced the Ten Commandments Defense Act, and Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) followed with the Religious Liberties Restoration Act. The bills would limit the authority of federal judges to make decisions about the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance and the motto "In God We Trust."

In addition to the federal legislation, Schenck said he would also like to see a constitutional amendment adopted protecting religious displays. But, he acknowledged, it was more likely for Congress to act in the short term on Moore's offer to house the monument in the U.S. Capitol.

Critics of Moore said such a move would lead the country down the wrong path.

Larry Darby, director of the American Atheists of Alabama, said he hopes reason will prevail should Congress ever seriously consider putting the monument in the Capitol.

"It is without question that [Moore and his supporters] are trying to install Christianity as our national religion," Darby said.

Any action Congress takes would result in a constitutional debate, Darby predicted. He added that it wouldn't benefit anyone except the Christian groups that are lobbying heavily for action. He said the more attention the issue receives, the more money these organizations are able to raise.

Darby said it is unfortunate Moore has attracted so many followers. He said supporters keep reciting the Declaration of Independence and Magna Carta - citing them for their religious impact - when the Constitution sets up the framework for government.

"Our government was founded in spite of the Ten Commandments," Darby said. Asked why some people believe otherwise, he said: "It's easier to believe what someone else says than to think and decide things for yourself."Send a
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