Ala. Judge Has Holy Request for Hill

Posted September 17, 2003 at 6:33pm

Thou shall place a Ten Commandments monument in the Rotunda.

That’s one directive Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore hopes Congress will follow. He is shopping for a new home for his controversial 5,280-pound statue, removed from the state judicial building in Montgomery three weeks ago under the order of a federal judge.

“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.

Aides to House and Senate leaders said they have not yet received a formal invitation from the Alabama judge, who made the offer in conjunction with the Foundation for Moral Law.

But John Feehery, a spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said, “I’m sure that we would take a look at this proposal.”

Feehery noted that the Speaker and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) display copies of the Ten Commandments in their offices.

Moore’s spokeswoman, Jessica Atteberry, said copies of Moore’s request were scheduled for delivery to leadership offices Wednesday. Moore was not available for comment.

Moore visited Capitol Hill last week to meet with several House Members, but he did not discuss donating the monument, said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who organized that meeting.

Aderholt, who is sponsoring a bill to protect public displays of the Ten Commandments, said Moore discussed his refusal to remove the monument from the judicial building, including “the issue of acknowledgement of God and why he felt he had to do what he did and the legal reasoning.”

The Alabama lawmaker has not spoken with Moore since the meeting but said he believes there would be strong support in the House for accepting the large marble statue.

“I don’t think [Members] would have a problem in the world with it,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of Members that find completely unbelievable the situation that happened in Montgomery.”

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended Moore in August for refusing to comply with the federal court order to remove the statue, which Moore had installed in 2001.

Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), a co-sponsor of the Ten Commandments legislation, has praised Moore’s actions defying the court order, but a spokesman said the lawmaker has not decided if Congress should accept the statue, which has been nicknamed “Roy’s Rock.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R) is prepared to accept the would-be gift.

“This is a gracious offer and I would hope my colleagues in Congress will join me in welcoming the monument to the Capitol,” he said in a statement. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) declined to comment through a spokesman.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), however, questioned if the federal court order in Alabama would also apply to the Capitol.

“Any of us are free to display any symbol we value in our offices. … The issue in my mind is not the Ten Commandments and whether they should be displayed — it’s whether that runs afoul of the establishment laws,” said Davis, who did not attend the meeting with Moore.

The Architect of the Capitol would likely have jurisdiction over placement of any new monument, said Susan Irby, a spokeswoman for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. And, Irby added, “There could be several jurisdictions on it.”

A number of committees — including the Rules panel, House Administration Committee, Joint Committee on the Library, House Fine Arts Board and Senate Commission on Art, and the Speaker’s office — govern placement of artwork throughout the Capitol and office buildings and have individual guidelines.

“Ultimately Congress has to give its approval whether or not to accept and where it goes,” said Eva Malecki, an AOC spokeswoman. “There are a lot of overlapping approvals and bodies that are involved in decision making.”

Two of the groups that initiated the Alabama case against Moore differed on whether a similar situation could occur if Congress were to accept the statue.

“If they’re smart they’ll ignore it. It’s only going to spark a lawsuit and more divisiveness,” said Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Richard Cohen, general counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, suggested that Congress could use the monument in a non-controversial manner.

“It would depend upon Congress’ purpose in displaying it and the purpose of the responsible officials and the effect of the display,” Cohen said. “There are ways in which one can display the Ten Commandments in a historic setting that doesn’t have the purpose or effect of promoting religion.”

However, Cohen added, “I’d be stunned if [Congress] took him up on his offer.”