Sunday, August 24, 2003

Amendments vs. Commandments

Here's the question I haven't heard anyone else ask in the controversy of the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama state courthouse: what harm is done by removing it?

Is there nowhere else you can find the Ten Commandments? It's not like we're talking about filling in the Grand Canyon, chipping away at Mount Rushmore, or chopping down The Arch. Between the houses of worship, libraries, and the internet, you only have about a million options.

My favorite part of the story was the people who traveled from all over the country to take part in the rallies supporting Justice Roy Moore's stubborn stand. One of them said, without a hint of irony, "The federal government has no right to tell Alabama what to do. This is a matter for the people of Alabama, and only the people of Alabama, to decide. That's why I came here from Michigan!"

What would the reaction of these self-declared warriors for religious rights have been if, instead of trying to express his beliefs with the Ten Commandments, Justice Moore has instead posted a granite monument with quotes from the Koran and the phrase, "Allah is God"? They'd have been inside with picks and sticks, taking it down in about two seconds. So much for their First Amendment argument.

On the other hand, those who say there is no place in a courthouse for religion have never spent anytime inside one. True, it's usually in a less formal presentation, something along the lines of "oh, please, God, give me one more chance and tell this jury that it's perfectly normal to drive my taxi the wrong way down the highway while wearing no clothes but covered in maple syrup, ping pong balls, and paper clips." More people find religion in court and jail than anywhere else in America -- with the possible exception of a high school classroom when a student realizes she forgot to study for the big history exam that's just been plopped on her desk. Or an NBA star being awakened in a hotel room by a call from the Eagle County sheriff's office.

Moore knew he was doing something wrong from the start. That's why he snuck the monument into the courthouse in the middle of the night. If he thought it was completely legit, he would've conducted the operation during the light of day for all to see. No, he was more like a kid who stayed out way past curfew and tried to squeeze back into the house without Mom and Dad knowing that he smelled like a carton of Marlboros and a case of Budweiser.

Now that Moore has been suspended, you can expect him to leave his post and immediately announce that he's running for higher elective office -- possibly Senator, probably Governor. And he'll win, too, because this is Alabama, the same state that was proud to serve as a launching pad for George Wallace 40 years ago when he stood in the university doorway to block two black kids from enrolling -- just long enough to achieve national prominence and eventually run for President. Unfortunately for Wallace, the electoral college wasn't located in Birmingham. Somewhere, right now, Lynyrd Skynyrd is working Moore's name into a new version of "Sweet Home Alabama."

One last thought. The Fifth Commandment, as listed on Roy's Rock, is "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." Keep that in mind this fall as you see all those NFL players praising God and declaring their deeply-held religious beliefs. While they work on Sundays.