MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Workers wheeled a Ten Commandments monument out of the state Judicial Building rotunda on yesterday, ending a noisy standoff, if not the broader debate over religious displays in public buildings.
The 2 1/2 -ton monument, at the center of a nationally televised tug of war, was moved to a private room inside the court building to comply with a court order that it be taken from public view.
Religious activists were kept outdoors, helpless to make good on vows to block the monument's removal with their bodies if necessary.
Monument supporters, who had stood vigil in the sun-seared plaza in front of the building for more than a week, decried the removal and vowed to fight on.
"It's a sad day for Alabama," said state Sen. Henry E. Erwin Jr., a Republican who supported the Ten Commandments display. "We had a chance to stand very tall. ... And we basically backed down."
The state was under a court order to move the monument after a federal judge ruled that it represented an unconstitutional use of public facilities to promote religion.
But Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who installed the monument two years ago, refused, setting up a showdown that drew several hundred Christian backers from around the country.
After Moore ignored an Aug. 20 deadline for removal, all eight associate justices stepped in and ordered the building manager to take the monument away in order to prevent court-imposed fines of $5,000 a day.
The action yesterday all but assured that Moore and the state will avoid having to pay.
"We're delighted they were able to come to compliance with the court order. Our hope was they could do so without incurring fines," said Richard Cohen, general counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that sued to have the monument removed.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which also was part of the legal battle over the monument, applauded the removal.
"This is a great victory for the concept of real religious freedom and for the principle that no judge is above the law himself," Lynn said.
Lynn accused Moore of engaging in political grandstanding and said he should go, too. "I do hope we manage in this process ... that Judge Roy Moore will be looking for another job and that he will be removed," he said.
In a written statement yesterday, Moore said, "It is a sad day in our country when the moral foundation of our law and the acknowledgment of God has to be hidden from public view to appease a federal judge. I am profoundly disappointed with our governor, our attorney general and the associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court who have allowed the basis of our justice system to be undermined by a federal judge who says that we cannot acknowledge God."
Workers used a hydraulic lift to move the 5,300-pound granite monument.
It is made of two pieces and was disassembled so it would fit through the door.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.