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Thursday, November 10, 2005  

Politics: Roy Moore will run for Ala. gov

The Montgomery Advertiser has state news of national consequence. A matter that should elicit yawns by now -- the separation of church and state -- can still be used to roil the waters and rile the masses. An Alabaman has decided to use fundamentalist fervor in much the same way another leader there used segregation de jure to his political advantage.

It's official.

Ousted Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is running for governor in 2006.

Moore, on Monday, announced his candidacy for the state's highest executive office. Montgomery resident Frank Hardy, a long-time Moore supporter and Republican, praised the former jurist for throwing his hat into the election ring.

"This country was founded on Christian principles, and I haven't seen anyone yet who will do the work that (former) Judge Moore will do," Hardy said. "I believe that he is the man for the job."

Local resident Jon Broadway had a different reaction.

"Oh, dear!" he said immediately after hearing about the announcement. "I can say safely that it would be the most tragic thing I can see for the state, to have him represent this state. It would make (former Gov.) George Wallace look like a distinguished gentlemen."

Moore likely will face incumbent Gov. Bob Riley, who is expected to announce whether he will run this weekend in the Republican primary next June.

The most irritating aspect is that Moore, a real life version of Sinclair Lewis' charismatic religious demagogue in the novel Elmer Gantry, has a real chance of winning. Not only have evangelical Christians urged him to seek higher office, some, including nationally recognized names such as Alan Keyes, have suggested a bid for the presidency. From Moore's perspective, the governorship of his state may appear to be small potatoes.

So, how did it happen? Some people would say that the current situation is based on Moore's imposition of a 5,000 pound granite monument on the Alabama judicial building after he was elected chief justice. That publicity stunt resulted in his being removed from office for violating the federal constitution in 2003. However, the roots of the evangelical fervor that leads some people to believe the country should be a Christian theocracy run deeper than that. The movement achieved significant strength in the 1920s. A consequence was passage of laws forbidding the teaching of evolution in about half the states. Such statutes were not deemed unconstitutional until 1968, when the Supreme Court of the United States heard Epperson v. Arkansas. The state supreme court had sidestepped the issue when a ruling allowing the teaching of evolution in public schools was appealed to it.

. . .Upon the principal issue, that of constitutionality, the court holds that Initiated Measure No. 1 of 1928, Ark.Stat.Ann. s 80-1627 and s 80--1628 (Repl. 1960), is a valid exercise of the state's power to specify the curriculum in its public schools. The court expresses no opinion on the question whether the Act prohibits any explanation of the theory of evolution or merely prohibits teaching that the theory is true; the answer not being necessary to a decision in the case, and the issue not having been raised.

SCOTUS reversed, rejecting the statutes because of their religious basis. It ruled that Arkansas was violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Government in our democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of noreligion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.

. . .In the present case, there can be no doubt that Arkansas has sought to prevent its teachers from discussing the theory of evolution because it is contrary to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive source of doctrine as to the origin of man. No suggestion has been made that Arkansas' law may be justified by considerations of state policy other than the religious views of some of its citizens. It is clear that fundamentalist sectarian conviction was and is the law's reason for existence.

Its antecedent, Tennessee's 'monkey law,' candidly stated its purpose: to make it unlawful 'to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.' Perhaps the sensational publicity attendant upon the Scopes trial induced Arkansas to adopt less explicit language. It eliminated Tennessee's reference to 'the story of the Divine Creation of man' as taught in the Bible, but there is no doubt that the motivation for the law was the same: to suppress the teaching of a theory which, it was thought, 'denied' the divine creation of man.

Arkansas' law cannot be defended as an act of religious neutrality. Arkansas did not seek to excise from the curricula of its schools and universities all discussion of the origin of man. The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth, Amendment to the Constitution.

After being removed from the court, Moore made a career of lecturing and touring with the Ten Commandments monument, called "Roy's Rock." He set up a political apparatus for himself that has resulted in incredible popularity throughout the South. His patronage also was a determining factor in his former aide, Tom Potter, being elected to the Supreme Court he had been ejected from.

If Moore is successful in achieving gubernatorial office in Alabama, the nation will be treated to historical deja vu. The situation that the Scopes trial was supposedly the death knell to, and that Epperson made officially verboten, will have reoccurred. There will be a state government that seeks to use religion as the foundation for its laws. Moore's popularity, and, the possibility that he can achieve this goal, reminds us that, for many Americans, an evolution in thinking about the roles of science and religion has not occurred.

6:15 PM