Governor Fob James Sues Alabama Chapter (May 1995)

In an almost unprecedented development, Alabama Gov. Fob James and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are filing a strange countersuit against the plaintiffs of a lawsuit against a county judge who leads prayers and posts the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU in March against Etowah County Judge Roy. S. Moore, is brought on behalf of the Foundation’s chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association, and three Alabama citizens, Foundation member Gloria Hersheiser, and Barbara and Herb Stappenbeck.

The countersuit was expected to be filed in early May, and names not just the plaintiffs and Alabama Freethought Association, but the ACLU. The governor and attorney general were expected to file the lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court, seeking a judge to declare it is constitutional for judges to use religion as they like in their own courtrooms.

This is only the latest development in the groundswell of religious hysteria that has greeted the suit against the praying judge.

Five hundred Christians rallied outside the Etowah County Courthouse on April 10 to show their support for Judge Moore, a Republican Baptist who holds regular prayers in his courtroom and displays his own wood carving of the Ten Commandments.

Moore was appointed in 1992 by former Gov. Guy Hunt, a Primitive Baptist minister who was forced from office amidst various ethics and financial scandals. Current Gov. Fob James has extended the support of the state, hiring a Birmingham attorney to represent the judge.

State legislators also have started a defense fund led by state Sen. Gerald Dial, a Democrat. The new chair of the House budget committee announced he will post a brass plaque of the Ten Commandments in his committee’s meeting room. “It’s the foundation of western civilization as far as I’m concerned,” opined Rep. Bill Fuller, a Democrat. He will also display framed scripture from the book of Joshua.

Sen. Albert Lipscomb, R-Magnolia Springs, claimed to the Associated Press that the Ten Commandments are posted in the U.S. Supreme Court. Foundation president Anne Gaylor investigated this false claim. Jane Yarborough, visitor programs coordinator of the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote back to confirm that it is not true: “The text of the Ten Commandments does not appear in any of the friezes.”

Following a memo last year advising judges against courtroom prayers by Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sonny Hornsby, many judges quit such prayers. But Moore continues to invite a visiting minister to pray before the monthly empanelment of potential jurors. He also leads regular prayers in his courtroom. Before jury selection in a court case on April 10, the judge invited Rev. Maurice Wright, pastor of United Christian Church in Gadsden, to lead a courtroom prayer in front of about 100 potential jurors.

Although Moore contends that his courtroom prayers are voluntary, Martin McCaffery of the ACLU said: “There’s nothing voluntary about it if you’re subpoenaed to court or have to testify before the court or have to serve on the jury.”

According to the Birmingham Post-Herald, Christian ministers at the rally called the ACLU “the enemy,” insisted that the United States is a Christian nation, and led the crowd in waving flags, bibles and singing “God Bless America” and “Amazing Grace.” Supporters claim to have garnered 12,000 signatures in support of Moore.

According to Associated Press, Moore told the crowd: “The separation of church and state was never intended to keep God out of government, but to keep the government out of our churches.”

In a Nov. 20, 1994 interview with the Gadsden Times, Moore told the newspaper that the U.S. Constitution “is founded upon a strong belief in God.”

ACLU attorney Joel Sogol estimates there are at least six to ten other Alabama judges praying in courtrooms in rural counties.

The Alabama Freethought Association is headed by Roger and Pat Cleveland, Foundation board members, who are hosts and caretakers of Lake Hypatia Freethought Hall and campgrounds.

Freedom From Religion Foundation