Mississippi covets neighbor's monument
Protests, lawsuit continue in Alabama
MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CNN) -- Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove volunteered Thursday to join neighboring Alabama in the fight over the Ten Commandments monument by offering to display it in his state's capitol building for a week starting September 7.
The 2.6-ton granite edifice was moved from the rotunda of the Alabama state judicial building to a back room out of public view Wednesday on order of a federal court that ruled it violated the U.S. Constitution's restriction on government establishment of religion. (Full story)
Musgrove, a Democrat, urged other governors to allow similar displays in their states "to show support for our common Judeo-Christian heritage."
"Like many Americans, I have watched as Alabama's struggle to display our Christian heritage has unfolded," Musgrove said in a statement.
"I had hoped and prayed that the courts would stand up for our rights, and I am disappointed. It is my sincere hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will override the federal court's decision."
In Alabama, an estimated 1,000 fans of suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore turned out on the judicial building steps Thursday to hear national conservative Christian leaders denounce the monument's removal. Moore did not appear at the rally.
Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended Moore last week after he refused to obey the order to move the monument.
Moore installed the privately funded monument in the early hours of August 1, 2001, without consulting any of the other justices on the Alabama Supreme Court.
The Rev. James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, told the rally the First Amendment specifically addresses Congress and does not restrict displays like Moore's.
"They've taken those simple words and twisted them to mean something the founders had no intention of," he said. "The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. They've had to contrive the basis of these things, and then talk about them as if they're a fact."
Dobson described the struggle over the Ten Commandments as part of a 41-year struggle that began with a 1962 Supreme Court ruling barring organized prayer in public schools and continued with rulings legalizing abortion and striking down state anti-sodomy laws.
"The foundations of America are being broken up each time the gavel of an activist judge is pounded in America," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
"The symbolism as well as the substance of this moment cannot escape us," Perkins said. "One federal judge has placed the Ten Commandments in a closet. That came after the United States Supreme Court recently welcomed everything else out of the closet."
Moore and his supporters say that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of the U.S. legal system and that forbidding the acknowledgment of the Judeo-Christian God violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion. (A conversation with Moore's attorney)
A lawsuit filed after the monument's installation argued the massive stone marker constituted a government endorsement of Christianity, in violation of the First Amendment. People often assembled around the monument to pray.
"We try to keep the government's hands off of religion in order to keep religion safe in this country," said Richard Cohen, general counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the organizations that sued over the monument.
"Religion in America flourishes not because the government is involved, but because it's uninvolved, and that's the way it should be."
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered Moore to remove the monument from the rotunda by midnight August 20, but he refused.
With Thompson threatening to hold the state in contempt and fine it $5,000 a day, Moore's colleagues on the state Supreme Court unanimously overruled him and had it taken out.
Moore has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review and overturn the order calling for the monument's removal.
His supporters also re-filed a federal lawsuit in Montgomery calling for the monument's restoration, a day after a federal judge in Mobile ruled the case was filed in the wrong venue.
For that case, Thompson met Thursday for about 10 minutes with lawyers for the state and representatives of the Christian Defense Coalition.
He agreed to study motions from both sides over the weekend and rule Tuesday on whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed, said Brian Chavez-Ochoa, the Christian Defense Coalition's lawyer.
Moore was a circuit judge in Etowah County, northeast of Birmingham, in the late 1990s when he fought a lawsuit seeking to remove a wooden plaque depicting the commandments from his courtroom.
The legal battle propelled him to statewide office in 2000, when the Republican jurist was elected chief justice after campaigning as the "Ten Commandments Judge."
CNN correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.