WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court of the United States refused Wednesday to block a lower-court order that forces Alabama's chief justice to remove a Ten Commandments monument from that state's Judicial Building.
The denial was expected, but it did contain a certain amount of irony.
Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore, who was elected to his position after placing a Ten Commandments plaque on his local courthouse, told the Supreme Court in a petition that as Alabama's head of the administrative judicial system, he placed the commandments monument in the rotunda of the Judicial Building in the state capital of Montgomery to recognize "the moral foundation of our law."
In "order to establish justice, we must invoke 'the favor and guidance of Almighty God,'" the petition quotes Moore as saying at the recent unveiling of the monument.
Not so fast, say the federal courts.
In response to a private suit, a federal judge and a federal appeals court have ruled that the monument is unconstitutional, and Moore must remove the monument by midnight Wednesday.
Moore is part of a movement in this country to establish the Ten Commandments as a historic basis for American law.
This special status for the Ten Commandments would come as a tremendous surprise to the majority of the legal community -- which seems to think the U.S. legal system is based on Roman and English law.
It would come as even more of a surprise to the Founding Fathers, who looked to the philosophers of the Enlightenment, not the Ten Commandments, to establish the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and their new system of government.
The Ten Commandments actually first began receiving attention in a legal sense during the 1950s, when as part of his publicity campaign for a film of the same name with Charlton Heston, Cecille B. DeMille helped finance Ten Commandment monuments across the country.
Within the last decade, the presence of the monuments on government property has prompted lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union and others. The suits contend the presence of the monuments on public land is an unconstitutional governmental entanglement with religion.
Though the Supreme Court has never ruled on the question, it has let stand a number of lower-court rulings that say the monuments violate the First Amendment's separation of church and state.
Most recently, the Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings in Indiana. The first involved a DeMille-era monument at the municipal building in Elkhart. That case was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2001. The very next year, the justices rejected, without comment, a case in which the lower courts ruled against Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon, who had agreed to erect a massive monument that included the Ten Commandments, among other things, on the Statehouse grounds in Indianapolis.
Given that history, Wednesday's rejection of the Alabama case was predictable. But as we said earlier, it is accompanied by a certain amount of irony.
If the justices on the Supreme Court are seeking other examples of the Ten Commandments in courthouses, they don't have look far.
They just have to look up.
There is a marvelous low-relief sculpture running around the top of the justices' courtroom. One section of the larger-than-life bas-relief depicts "lawgivers."
And there he is. Moses. Holding the Ten Commandments in his hand.
He's been there since the building was completed in 1935, and it is unlikely that he will ever be forced to leave.
As Chief Justice William Rehnquist explained when Muslims complained several years ago about one of Moses' companions in the sculpture, Mohammed holding the Koran: The Supreme Court sits in a historic building that normally cannot be altered. The religious depictions in the low-relief cannot be removed.
One other thing.
High on the wall directly over Rehnquist's head when he sits on the bench is a depiction of two tablets. The tablets are rounded on the top and flat on the bottom. They simply contain the Roman numerals I through X.
Supreme Court curators explain the tablets as a representation of the Bill of Rights.
But the tablets look awfully similar to what Charlton Heston might carry in a movie.
(No. 03-258, In re Roy S. Moore)