Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Does Chuck Norris Always Know Best?

From the fear of receiving a roundhouse kick to the face, when Chuck Norris speaks, I’d usually listen. However, this all changed for me in the summer of 2009. Why? On June 10, 2009 Chuck Norris publicly endorsed a few candidates seeking the gubernatorial elections from Ohio, Iowa, and most importantly for this case, Alabama. Chuck’s pick: Judge Roy Moore.

For those who may not recognize his name, Roy Moore gained legendary status when he placed a two ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments inside his state courtroom as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, and then refused to remove it. With his refusal, the Judiciary Court of Alabama unanimously chose to remove Moore from this post as Chief Justice, and with that the monument was removed as well.

Despite the fact that this trial was back in 2003, it is impossible to talk about Judge Roy Moore without talking about this controversy. So naturally, as Moore is now in a tight race for the upcoming election in Alabama, lots of people are talking about him once again, even Chuck Norris. Norris is quoted as stating, “Roy's resume reads like a 'Who's Who' of American life and justice: from private practice to District Attorney then circuit judge and chief justice…Roy Moore's awesome autobiographical manifesto "So Help Me God!" is a must read for any patriot.”

Throughout the countless interviews and debates surrounding his Ten Commandments controversy, Moore always maintained that he had the right to “publicly acknowledge God.” This statement was, and still is, Moore’s entire basis for standing by his monument. However, the problem is not Judge Moore’s personal religious beliefs, or his personal right to acknowledge God, but can the State acknowledge God? In Federal Court Judge Myron Thompson’s final opinion in the trial he states, “While the Chief Justice is free to keep whatever religious belief he chooses the State may not acknowledge the sovereignty of the Judeo-Christian God and attribute to that God our religious freedom.”

On his 2010 campaign website, Moore states that the statement made by Judge Thompson was “unlawful and “contradicted not only the Constitution of the United States but every State Constitution to include that of Alabama which acknowledges the existence of God.” I’m not completely positive, but I believe the Constitution of Alabama does this; however, I’m almost certain that the US Constitution does not. So who has the final say, the federal courts? Or the state judge?

This controversy brings many issues and questions to mind, however Judge Thompson hit the nail on the head. Can the State publicly acknowledge God? Why does Judge Roy Moore feel that he has the authority, indeed the right, to do so in a State courtroom? But the more pressing matter is perhaps that up until 2 weeks ago, Moore was the front runner in the polls and continues to hang right around the top. Many Alabamians, myself included, are worried that if the “Ten Commandments Judge” wins the election and becomes the governor of Alabama, what does that entail for those citizens of Alabama who side with Judge Thompson?

If we allow public religious displays in governmental buildings and courtrooms, does this mean we are endorsing a particular set of beliefs? And that those who do not adhere will be punished perhaps more harshly than those that do?

The lesson here, don’t always listen to Chuck Norris!


Abby P said...

This was a very interesting article. I was unaware of this conflict that eventually resulted in Judge Roy Moore losing his position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. It was also intriguing, from the article, that despite the fact that Moore's refusal to remove the monument of the Ten Commandments was certainly a controversial act, he still seems to be in pretty good standing in the polls. This shows that perhaps a number of people in Alabama do not believe that the display of the Ten Commandments in a state courtroom was a violation of the Constitution. Personally, I do not think religious monuments of any kind should be displayed in a state courtroom. It is true that Judge Moore is entitled to his religious beliefs; but the display of large religious monuments is more than just an acknowledgement of religion, it is a promotion of religion. Magistrates are supposed to be unbiased; and if religious displays are erected in their courtrooms, then the avid observer clearly sees that the magistrate is no longer acting in a manner of objectivity.

Christa L said...

One great question this article asks is: What does it mean to be an American? After all, we have "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on our money and in our courts. Does being American, than, require a belief, devotion, and trust in God (and this is almost undoubtedly the Christian, perhaps deist, God)?

But there's more to that as well. The State and the courts are treated like agents, sovereign and unique from their constituent parts. However, the State and the courts are made up of people - people who are allowed to believe whatever they want, if we read the First Amendment in that way. But, these same people, working as representatives of the State, are also limited by that same amendment. Where does one's identity as a civilian stop and one's identity as a part of the State begin? If individual freedom is important, than the individual people who make up the State should be able to believe however they choose and act on that belief - within limits. But, the State is a community-like thing made up of individuals. The State is limited - doesn't that meant he individuals are limited, too? Hard to say.

It also reminds me of the controversy over the "abortion pill," more accurately known as the "morning after pill." Pharmacies and other medical personnel are required to do particular things in their practice regardless of religious belief - the most controversial related to contraception and abortion. In this case, "medicine" or the "medical community" is also treated as a monolithic entity. However, it is also made up of individuals who have individual rights who may have their rights abridged if forced to give out the "morning after pill" when their individual conscience forbids it.

The problem seems to be negotiating individual rights with some sort of group identity (like the "State" or the "medical community). This is the flip side of what some of us saw in Tisa Wenger's We Have a Religion, in which Pueblo Indians had to negotiate individual rights when applied to religious tradition understood communally.

weinerjoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
weinerjoy said...

The Twelve Commandments are very important Christian pillars found in the Bible. But, if you happen to not be a Christian, you probably choose to look to other sources to direct your moral compass. Justice Thomas’ quoted comment is a very accurate study of the Establishment Clause. Moore’s thoughts on religion are personal and should be kept outside of his judicial obligations. For those, like Chuck Norris, who support Moore and his decision to place the 12 Commandments on the interior of a federal court house, I beg of you your estimated response to a repositioning of Moore’s leanings. Let’s imagine that Moore is a Native American of Pueblo descent and a monument depicting the All Indian Pueblos Council Spiritual Creed was placed in a courtroom at his behest. It would likely receive a cold reception by many just because they do not favor Native American spiritual or religious precepts. Because Moores’ work place actions promote a particular faith, they are illegal. His repremandment and removal was appropriate and fair. Let’s have some respect for our fellow Americans who are not of a predominant faith, but believe our national courts to be competent in making judgments’ without the interference of religious bias.

josh l. said...

I think most people would agree that keeping a particular religious disposition out of the reasoning of courts is a good thing. Moore seems to be an exception to this rule. I think Christa's comment is important, and I would like to expand on her first comment, in relation to the role of God and Religion in the state. It seems that one could argue that Moore's comments in some sense make obvious the ideology that supports our government: namely, that there are certain Christian presuppositions that go into how our government works.

This is not, however, to say he is correct in reducing the government to a merely "Protestant" disposition. Because this also seems troubling, as there have been interventions over time that have changed what might above been a more monolithic religious structure at the time of the country's founding. We might say that this argument goes back to the Howe article ("The Garden and the Wilderness") we read in class. Howe argued that the enlightenment style skepticism of Jefferson has not been the Supreme courts only influence in making decisions regarding state/Church separation, but that the Court has also been implicitly relying on the Colonial claims to separation which protected Christianity from the "wilderness" of politics.

It seems that how we tell this story shapes in a significant way how we imagine religious freedom. One way to take Howe' s argument would be to say "yes, of course the state had Christian underpinnings, therefore we should make the state more Christian," which seems to be Moore's argument. Another response would be to say that "perhaps there was a significant Protestant influence on the shape of the state at the beginning, but to reduce our state to that now, would be damaging to justice and historically inaccurate" I for one, would go with the latter, as it seems the most politically realistic and politically valuable.

Kerry S said...

I agree with all of the above comments, that it was right for the government of Alabama to remove the statues of the Ten Commandments. While there is an undeniable connection between the basic tenets of our laws and the Ten Commandments, Judge Moore was out of line in erecting them. While he has every right to practice whatever religion he chooses, as an elected public official, he must adhere to civil law while he is in the public sphere. In terms of the question of whether the federal courts have more say than the state courts, in cases I have read for other classes, the Supreme Court has ruled that under the 14th Amendment, states do not have the right to infringe upon a citizen's federal right to protection under the 1st Amendment. However, I feel this works both ways. The federal government also has the right to ensure that the wall of separation between church and state is maintained.

JoeyM said...

My question for this article and post is, when does an individual stop being an individual and start being a state? With that out of the way we can acknowledge that yes, Moore probably spent tax payers money for the ten commandments. Let us assume that he did not do something stupid like that. Is he allowed to display the ten commandments in the court room? To answer this question let us assume that instead of a statue like thing the ten commandments were one his Robe. Would this case be handled in the same way? YES! this shows a predjudice toward a singular way of thinking. It bring religion directly into law in a very public way. By doing this he is saying that the rules of his god are what govern the decisions of the court room. Thus, once he enter the courtroom he stops being an individual and starts being a state. Is this right. Only God knows.