The Chief Justice of the U.S. southern state of Alabama has been removed from office for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a religious monument from the grounds of the state courthouse. The case has highlighted political differences in the United States over the separation of church and state.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been known as the Ten Commandments Judge for more than a decade because of his promotion of biblical scriptures in public life. Shortly after he was elected chief justice in 2000, Judge Moore helped to design a stone monument of the Ten Commandments which he had placed in the Alabama State Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama in the middle of the night - in defiance of laws separating church and state.
Federal courts ruled Judge Moore's action was illegal but he refused to remove the monument. Earlier this year the monument was removed on instructions from the eight other judges on the Alabama Supreme Court.
On Thursday a panel of judges, lawyers and other legal experts, known as the state Court of the Judiciary, voted to remove Judge Roy Moore from his post. Presiding Judge William Thompson said the court had no choice but to remove Judge Moore because he had willfully broken federal laws.
“All of the members of this court, after serious consideration, of the evidence and testimony presented at this trial, find by clear and convincing evidence, Roy S. Moore, while in his role as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama did willfully and publicly defy a public court order directed to him,” he said.
If Judge Moore's removal stands, Alabama Governor Bob Riley will appoint a new chief justice to finish the term which expires in 2006.
Judge Roy Moore could appeal his case to the Alabama Supreme Court, the judicial body he used to preside over, but observers say his fellow colleagues on the bench would be unlikely to support him. Speaking to supporters after the ruling Judge Moore remained defiant.
“I have said repeatedly that unless we can acknowledge God we cannot uphold our office. We have got to stop hypocrisy in this country,” he said. “We have got to stop courts that will open with the statement of God save the United States of America, and then say they cannot acknowledge God. We have got to stop judges who put their hands on the bible and say so help me God, and then go into court and the first thing they do is deny the very creator, God upon which this nation and our laws are founded.”
Judge Moore's case has become a cause for religious conservatives across the United States, who have condemned the ruling firing him from his position. Civil liberties groups hailed the decision saying it upholds constitutional provisions separating church and state.