| The monument at the Alabama judicial building (Reuters)
New York, Aug. 22: A judge, nicknamed “the Moses of Alabama”, defied the US law yesterday by refusing to remove a huge monument of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse.
In an echo of the struggle over civil rights in the 1960s, the state’s chief justice, Roy Moore, openly flouted a federal judge’s ruling that the two-ton tablets must go.
His fellow judges on the sta- te bench intervened in the sta- nd-off by ordering the build-ing’s manager to get rid of the monument.
Hundreds of supporters knelt in prayer and chanted their support at the Rotunda in Montgomery where “Roy’s Rock”, as it is known, has been displayed for two years.
Patrols of sympathisers and “minutemen” were on stand- by for any attempt to storm the building and enforce the court order. Police arrested 21 people on Wednesday for refusing to leave the courthouse when it closed.
Last night, Moore appeared on the steps of the courthouse and vowed to pursue his struggle. “The fight to defend our constitutional right to acknowledge God must and will continue,” he said.
“I hear others talk of the rule of law. If the rule of law means to do everything that a judge tells you, we would still have slavery in this country and the declaration of independence would be a meaningless document.”
A federal judge, Myron Thompson, had set a deadline of midnight on Wednesday for the monument to be removed and was yesterday due to decide whether to levy a £3,100-a-day fine on the state for disobeying.
The US Constitution bans any government endorsement of religion, although the fede- ral judge has indicated that Moore can keep his monument in his chambers if he so wishes.
The tablets were hidden behind a wooden partition for a brief period yesterday morning and the public were refused entry to the building in what appeared to be an attempt to head off more confrontation.
“This must end or freedom will end with it,” one speaker, Alan Keyes, said of the federal court ruling. “They’ve been coming down here and running things since I was a kid,” said a demonstrator, Pete Moran. “They’ll have to move me out of the way to take the Ten Commandments.”
Moore’s stand has prompted parallels with the behaviour of Governor George Wallace, faced with Washington’s demands that he desegregate the state’s university in the 1960s.
It has also won him wild popularity in Alabama. His defiance of previous demands for him to remove a smaller pair of rosewood Ten Commandments tablets from another courth-ouse helped win him election as chief justice.
Rows over the display of the Ten Commandments have erupted in several cities across America since the Christian Right called for them to be given more prominence in public places.
Opponents quoting the Constitution’s First Amendment requiring the authorities to “make no law respecting the establishment of religion” have used the courts to challenge the trend.