More than a decade ago, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore installed a giant Ten Commandments monument in the courthouse in the dead of night. When he was told to remove it, he said no, eventually defying other courts’ orders and becoming a Fake Christian Martyr in the process. Eventually the eight other justices on the Supreme Court ruled that the monument had to go — and not long after that, Moore was removed from his seat altogether. (Though, in 2012, he was re-elected to Chief Justice.)
He’s pretty much the perfect example of why religion and politics shouldn’t mix. He lost credibility when he decided to put his faith above the very law he swore to protect. And why place your trust in a judge who doesn’t seem to give a damn what the law says?
That’s also why we should be concerned about Jackson County (AL) Commission member Tim Guffey, who wants to put up his own Ten Commandments monument in the local courthouse. In order to avoid Moore’s fate, though, Guffey is disguising his true intentions:
“What I’m trying to do is erect a monument of historical documents,” Guffey said Thursday in an interview with AL.com. “It’s the Constitution, the Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence. I feel like that’s what this country was founded on. These documents helped America become the greatest country in history.”
Inclusion of the Ten Commandments is for historical reasons, not religious, Guffey said. The influence of the Ten Commandments, he said, cannot be separated from the writings of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Two out of three is still pretty bad in this case.
There’s just no clear line between the Commandments and our current law. Our secular government doesn’t (and shouldn’t) care if you have any other gods before the True God, worship false idols, take the Lord’s name in vain, or work on the Sabbath. Hell, those first Commandments violate the First Amendment (Establishment Clause and freedom of speech).
And even if it’s a good idea to honor your parents, not commit adultery, not covet what others have, and not lie (sans perjury), those things are not illegal under our law.
Essentially, the only Commandments which are enshrined in our law are the ones which deal with common sense notions — don’t steal, don’t kill.
So how exactly did the Ten Commandments influence our current law?
It didn’t. Guffey won’t even bother trying to explain how it does.
But he’s very open about wanting to take Moore’s path without necessarily facing the same fate:
“I have a lot of respect for Judge Moore,” Guffey said. “When Judge Moore did the monument, it was for the Ten Commandments. It was for religious purposes. And I commend him. He believed it was his right to put that up and he was going to stand on it.
“This situation is not that situation. I’m trying to show people where (the historical documents) came from.”
He’s working off of the notion that it’s sometimes legal to display the Ten Commandments as one of many historical documents, a tactic that might work if the intention of the display isn’t to promote religion. But that’s precisely what Guffey is doing here.
Chuck Miller, the Alabama regional director of American Atheists, already knows how he’ll respond if Guffey goes through with this display: He’ll either file a lawsuit or request that an atheist monument also be placed on courthouse property like we saw in Bradford County, Florida:
The problem, according to Miller, is that any organization should have the right to place their own monuments at the courthouse and that could get “unwieldy,” he said.
“Personally, as an Alabama taxpayer, I would prefer that there is an outcome where it wouldn’t wind up in court simply because of the expense involved,” Miller said. “If the county went ahead and erected a monument, there is any number of organizations — Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Americans United — any of those organizations might well decide to launch legal action.”
“I’m not offended,” Miller said. “The Ten Commandments don’t offend me. The Bible doesn’t offend me. What I find objectionable is when anybody of any religion wants to force their particular ideas into the public space and make them part of public policy.”
That’s the right attitude. It’s not about using the government to promote your beliefs. It’s about everyone being treated equally under the law. A Ten Commandments monument, even with a couple of (actually) historical displays surrounding it, sends the message that non-Christians won’t get a fair shake under the law and that Christians will get special treatment.
There’s simply no justification for it… unless Guffey just wants to lay the groundwork for a future run for higher office, and knows that promoting Christianity through the government is a surefire way to fire up his religious base.
Alabama has seen this play out before. They shouldn’t let it happen again.