It Is Judge Moore Who Is Upholding the Rule of Law, Not His Opponents
A recent story in Baptist Press discussed the debate among evangelical leaders over the Alabama Ten Commandments controversy. On the one hand, Dr. James Dobson is an outspoken supporter of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and strongly disagrees with evangelicals who have criticized Moore’s legal strategy. On the other hand, Dr. Richard Land insists that Moore should have obeyed a federal court order and removed the monument.
Land has argued that the court order must be followed. “Do evangelical Christians really want to say that this United States government is no longer a legitimate government and that we are no longer obligated to obey its courts when we disagree with their rulings?” he wrote. “If so, let us understand it for what it is. It is insurrection. I want to reform this government, not rebel against it as an illegitimate government beyond repair.” In agreement with Land is Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, who said that while there is no question that the monument is constitutional, “we are people who respect the rule of law.”
I admire Land and Robertson for articulating their convictions, but all this talk about “respecting the rule of law” and “obeying court orders” seems overly facile to me. In my opinion it reflects not only an appalling ignorance of our federal Constitution but a fatal misunderstanding of Moore’s position. The Roy Moore case is most certainly about following the rule of law, but not about blindly “obeying” an unconstitutional ruling.
In an Op/Ed piece published in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Judge Moore hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “By telling the state of Alabama that it may not acknowledge God, Judge Thompson effectively dismantled the justice system of the state. Judge Thompson never declared the Alabama Constitution unconstitutional, but the essence of his ruling was to prohibit judicial officers from obeying the very constitution they are sworn to uphold. In so doing, Judge Thompson and all who supported his order, violated the rule of law.”
The argument of Moore’s opponents is thus turned on its head. Moore is hardly a lawbreaker, except to the extent that he is attempting to honor and obey a more fundamental law, the U.S. Constitution. As Moore said:
Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor and my fellow justices have argued that they must act to remove the monument to preserve the rule of law. But the precise opposite is true: Article VI of the Constitution makes explicitly clear that the Constitution, and the laws made pursuant to it, are “the supreme Law of the Land.” Judge Thompson and the judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have all sworn oaths which bind them to support the Constitution as it is written—not as they would personally prefer it to be written. By subjugating the people of Alabama to the unconstitutional edict by Judge Thompson, that public officials may not acknowledge God, the attorney general and my colleagues have made the fiat opinion of a judge supreme over the text of the Constitution. While agreeing with me that the Constitution is supreme, and that the opinion of Judge Thompson was contrary to the Constitution, the attorney general has argued that he must follow an order he himself believes to be in direct violation of the supreme law of the land.
In deciding to disregard an unlawful order of a federal judge in a matter pertaining to the state of Alabama, Judge Moore is guilty of “civil disobedience” only if we define the term according to Pharisaic sophistry. There is a higher law at stake. As Moore stated, his actions are “the lawful response of the highest judicial officer of the state to his oath of office,” adding, “Had the judge declared the 13th Amendment prohibition on involuntary slavery to be illegal, or ordered the churches of my state burned to the ground, there would be little question in the minds of the people of Alabama and the U.S. that such actions should be ignored as unconstitutional and beyond the legitimate scope of a judge’s authority. Judge Thompson’s decision to unilaterally void the duties of elected officials under the state constitution and to prohibit judges from acknowledging God is equally unlawful.”
In the end, it is Judge Thompson and his defenders who have put themselves above the law. The Moore case is but another tragic example of how our U.S. Constitution has become a worthless scrap of paper to many of our public officials. As Howard Phillips recently stated, “No federal court has had delegated to it any authority whatsoever over the placement of the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama judicial building. Judge Thompson has violated his oath of office by disregarding the words of the U.S. Constitution and by corruptly attempting to usurp the authority of the elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama.”
Alabama’s state motto declares, “Dare Defend Our Rights.” I thank God that the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama is willing to do that.
August 26, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.