Yesterday, the Mobile Register reported that Alabama Governor Bob Riley claims that former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore asked Governor Riley to call out the Alabama National Guard in order to stop the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building in 2003. Chief Justice Moore had installed the monument in the courthouse and a federal court had ordered him to remove it; he refused and was later removed from office because of state ethics charges that were brought against him on the basis of his refusal to comply with the federal court’s unlawful order.
In 2003, I was involved in a citizen presence on the grounds of the state judicial building (which houses the Alabama Supreme Court). While that event has been called a “protest”, much more than protesting was involved. Yes, we were there to protest the federal judge’s unlawful order; we were also there to pray, to encourage our state and federal officials to do the right thing, and to show that we were concerned about the public acknowledgment of God. We were there to send the message that forcibly removing and prohibiting the acknowledgment of God from society can only result in the destruction of a free society–that those who have their law founded not on the authority of God but on the sinful whims of men’s hearts shall destroy themselves.
I was also present at the state capitol in 1997 when Governor Fob James and others spoke at a rally in support of Judge Roy Moore, who was at that time a circuit judge. Judge Moore had been ordered by a state court to remove a hand-carved Ten Commandments plaque from the wall of his courtroom and to stop allowing prayer before trials. He refused to comply with the order and the order was eventually overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court on a technicality.
During that Ten Commandments struggle, Governor James stated that, if necessary, he would call up Alabama National Guard soldiers to stop the removal of the Ten Commandments plaque from Judge Moore’s courtroom. Governor James proved himself not one to make idle threats, so his statement was considered quite seriously. He went on to explain that, were the Ten Commandments plaque ordered by a federal court to be removed, and were federal marshals sent to remove the plaque, he would place Alabama soldiers at the courthouse to prevent the removal. Governor James stated that this would not have resulted in armed conflict; instead, it would have forced President Bill Clinton to either ignore the order of the federal judge and recall the marshals or to federalize the Alabama Guard soldiers and order them away from the courthouse. In Governor James’ estimation, no U.S. president would ever do such a thing.
Coming back to 2003 events, it seems that former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts, who served as a legal adviser for Chief Justice Moore, approached Governor Riley about the Ten Commandments monument. Mr. Butts asked Governor Riley to protect the monument from the unlawful order of the federal judge and to prohibit it from being removed. Apparently, Governor Riley has now stated that Judge Moore asked him to call in the Alabama National Guard. Mr. Butts has stated that he did not ask that the Guard be called in but that they did discuss the possibility that things might play out to that end if Governor Riley were to act to protect the monument. According to radio reports today, Judge Moore has denied asking that the Guard be called out to the judicial building and has stated that he agrees with Mr. Butts’ version of the story.
Why this matter is a big news story in the state today, I am not sure. Use of Alabama soldiers was promised by Governor James back in 1997. Thus, the 2003 discussion was not a new idea.
For some reason, commentators feel the need to make a big issue out of this now and to paint Judge Moore as a man filled with bloodlust–the idea being that, if the Guard soldiers were called out, a shootout with federal marshals would result. This is an absurd interpretation of the facts and seems only to be an attempt to undermine Judge Moore’s credibility. And, if weighing Governor Riley’s credibility against Judge Moore’s, Judge Moore wins every time. After all, Judge Moore has fulfilled every public promise he’s made and Governor Riley has broken so many of his own.