Monumental demagoguery

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IT'S MADE of granite. It weighs more than 2 tons. And it depicts the tablets on which the Bible says God handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses.

What could be wrong with this?

Nothing, except that the chief justice of the state of Alabama took it upon himself one night two years ago to have this overt religious symbol plopped down in the lobby of the state's Supreme Court building.

Thankfully, the massive monument may have been taken away by this morning, as the state's associate justices wisely voted yesterday to have it removed.

Even so, the problem posed by the rock persists in the form of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who put it there in the first place and steadfastly refused to remove it - even defying a federal court order.

It's hard to figure just how any competent jurist could conclude that placing such a monument at the gateway to any American court is proper and legal. The chief justice has explained his action by saying it's not about religion, only about acknowledging God and references to God in the founding of the American legal system.

But of course, whose God? It's almost embarrassing to have to point out that in America's multicultural, multiethnic society, there is a great variety of religious traditions - and notions of God - not just those stemming from the Bible.

It's particularly telling that in Alabama's capital, Montgomery, the local religious community reportedly hasn't been publicly backing the chief justice; the swirl of true believers who have rushed to the defense of "Roy's rock" have mainly been from out of town.

Justice Moore has to be loving the whole circus. After all, long before this furor, while a county judge in the 1990s, he had become well known as the "Ten Commandments Judge" for defying another court order to remove miniature Ten Commandment tablets from his courtroom - a stance that he rode in 2000 to his statewide election as chief justice.

Even after "Roy's rock" no longer rests on public property, you'll no doubt hear a lot of very sophisticated legal theories as to the supposed purely secular nature of this monument. That simply isn't the case.

What's true is that a very savvy elected official knows how to ride an almost unassailable symbol for all it's worth, in the worst tradition of small-time, small-minded politicians everywhere.

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