| This sculpture of Moses holding the Ten Commandments is found on a frieze above the justices’ bench of the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP)
Washington, Aug. 23: It is America’s Ayodhya. Yesterday, it cost the chief justice of Alabama his job.
The only difference between Alabama’s religious zealots and the mob which demolished the Babri Masjid is that those who want to raze a Christian monument in the state are the federal government agencies. Those protecting the monument in a round-the-clock vigil in Montgomery, the state capital, on the other hand, are Christian fundamentalists.
Alabama is America’s most backward-looking state. Up until about three years ago, marriages between Blacks and Whites were illegal under Alabama’s constitution.
The two-year battle between the state’s religious Right and those who want a separation between the church and the state — which has now reached boiling point — began when Alabama’s chief justice, Roy Moore, installed a two-ton granite structure displaying the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court building’s rotunda.
Moore’s decision to display the Ten Commandments at the most visible point in the court building was challenged, among others, by Ayesha Khan, an attorney of South Asian origin for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In November last year, US district judge Myron Thompson ordered the removal of the monument by August 20 on the ground that it violated a clause in the US Constitution prohibiting the government from promoting religion.
Moore went to the US Supreme Court in appeal, but the nation’s highest court, on Wednesday, refused to intervene in the dispute.
A day later, as Moore’s supporters gathered around the granite Ten Commandments in a vigil and vowed to obstruct its removal, Moore’s eight fellow judges on the state’s bench overruled him and ordered the monument removed.
Meanwhile, the chief justice was suspended yesterday for his failure to obey the federal court ruling declaring the Ten Commandments display as illegal.
The suspension came after a nine-member judicial inquiry commission referred the complaint against him in this case as an ethics violation to the “court of the judiciary”, a panel made up of four judges, three lawyers and two non-lawyers.
Judges who are under an ethics investigation cannot perform any judicial duties and senior associate justice Gorman Houston has been made acting chief justice.
The federal judge who ordered the removal of the display had ruled that Alabama would have to pay a fine of $5,000 per day for every day that the Ten Commandments remained at the court’s rotunda after August 20.
But after Moore’s suspension, Khan and other plaintiffs said they would withhold a plea to hold the chief justice in contempt of court or to start levying the fine until the end of next week.