More than a decade ago, former Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court installed a massive granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building. Two years later it was removed by court order as a violation of the separation of church and state. Shortly thereafter, Justice Moore was also removed by court order from the Alabama State Judicial Building.
Not long after these events played themselves out across our cable television news shows, Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments monument went on tour. Loaded onto the flatbed of a heavy-duty truck, it went town to town so onlookers could see for themselves this controversial work of stonemasonry.
I watched the monument make its first stop in Dayton, Tennessee. This was a calculated move for the organizers of the tour. Dayton was home of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, where many feel Christian America was first besieged.
An atheist was there in Dayton (or “Monkey Town” as it’s called) at that first stop, protesting the monument being placed on display. This man barely escaped with his life. Moore’s supporters, about a hundred I guess, were screaming out for the death of this single protester.
“Shoot him…hang him…put him before a firing squad!” These were all yelled from the crowd. One man speaking of the “godless” protestor said, “I’m glad I didn’t bring my gun. I’d be in jail right now.”
The shady and twisted irony was not lost on me. Here were ardent supporters of the Ten Commandments – they had come out on a rainy day to see a stone rendering of them – wishing to violate those commandments as they called for the killing of their enemy.
In spite of the threats like those made that day, there has actually been less, not more, religiously motivated violence in United States history than in some other places. This has been due precisely because of court rulings like the one that evicted Moore’s rock pillar from the Alabama State Judicial Building.