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Advocates debate the First Amendment, Ten Commandments

The Rev. Pat Mahoney and Ayesha Khan squared off on the Ten Commandments controversy Thursday.
The Rev. Pat Mahoney and Ayesha Khan squared off on the Ten Commandments controversy Thursday.

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CNN) -- A two-ton stone monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building was again at the center of controversy Thursday, as the eight associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court overrode their chief justice and ordered the monument removed.

The vote came the day after the deadline imposed by a federal court, which cited the monument as a violation of the separation of church and state.

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips discussed the issue Thursday with the Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition and Ayesha Khan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

PHILLIPS: Reverend Mahoney, let's start with you, reverend. We heard the words from Roy Moore there. Is this an issue of separation of state and church?

MAHONEY: Well, we would have to define separation of church and state. But first of all, I would want to invite everyone that comes to Montgomery, Alabama, who cherishes the First Amendment, religious liberty and free speech to stand against this kind of judicial tyranny that we are seeing here and the crushing of the First Amendment.

No, we are making the argument that monument there in that courtroom is a reminder to everyone who comes in, Christian, non-Christian, that the founding principles of our nation are based on the Ten Commandments and Judeo-Christian law. And hundreds have come, thousands to Montgomery, Alabama, and we will peacefully and prayerfully kneel around this court building, risking arrest should they try to remove this monument.

PHILLIPS: Ayesha, the argument on behalf of Moore, Reverend Mahoney backing this up, separation of church and state was never meant to separate God from our government. Your response?

KHAN: This isn't tyranny. This is anarchy. We live in a country where the federal courts are the ultimate arbiters of what violates the Constitution and they have now, at every stage of the federal court system, said that this monument violates the federal Constitution. And the defiance of a federal court order is the least patriotic act a person can take.

PHILLIPS: Ayesha, I want to read from the Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776, clearly stating that -- quote -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Is indeed the Ten Commandments just a moral foundation of our law?

KHAN: Well, there are many sources of American law, and the United States Supreme Court, for example, has the sculpture in it that depicts Hammurabi along with Moses, Justinian, Confucius, a whole host of lawgivers who are responsible for the legal system we have today. And the problem is when you single out one of them, and you do with the motives that Justice Moore did, the Constitution doesn't allow it.

PHILLIPS: Reverend Mahoney, is this endorsing any specific religion? The Ten Commandments, this monument?

MAHONEY: No, it's just saying that the foundation of American law is based on Judeo-Christian values and the Ten Commandments.

To Ayesha, I would disagree. There's not chaos here. It looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. There are moms and dads, children out here. And in terms of being unpatriotic, Dr. Martin Luther King would be unpatriotic. All those who cherish free speech, our Founding Fathers would be unpatriotic.

Here's the struggle here. A federal judge is not the final arbiter. The third circuit over in Pennsylvania has ruled that the Chester County courthouse can post the Ten Commandments. So we are saying we are peacefully resisting and affirming the ideals of America. One hundred and 50 feet from here is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Apparently, Ayesha would think that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who violated court orders, is unpatriotic.

Chief Justice Roy Moore is affirming the principles of this country. He is standing for justice, just as courageous people have throughout the centuries. And I utterly resent the fact that we are unpatriotic here. You may disagree with us, Ayesha. I haven't called you unpatriotic. But we are affirming the founding principles of this country.

PHILLIPS: Ayesha, go ahead, and, you know, answer the question too. The Ten Commandments, this monument, isn't this just acknowledging God, not necessarily endorsing a specific religion? President of the United States, you know, mentions God in every single speech that he makes.

KHAN: There's a difference between that and what Justice Moore has done here.

He said loudly and vociferously that he did this to proclaim the sovereignty of the Christian God. That kind of preference for a particular religion by a government official is not appropriate.

The Ten Commandments are a holy document. They are a sacred document. They are personal. And it shows profound disrespect for them and for the federal courts and for religion to allow them to become the star attraction in a three-ring circus.

MAHONEY: It's not a three-room circus here. And for Ayesha and all her supporters, if you have the problem with the mention of God in the public square, please send the Christian Defense Coalition your $5s, your $20s, your $1s. We'll be happy to take that offensive material from you and help to feed the hungry and help emergency shelters across the country. Do you have a problem with carrying "In God We Trust" on public money?

I mean, it's ludicrous here. This monument is not telling anyone to worship God in a certain way. It's making an historical statement that this is the basis -- and by the way, for all the viewers, there are other comments on that monument. It isn't just the Ten Commandments, affirming the founding principles of our nations.

It's not a three-ring circus here. Ayesha, come on out and take look. We'd love to have you.

PHILLIPS: Ayesha, let's take a look -- let's take a look at the monument, OK? We've put together a graphic here.

One, two, three, four -- the first four parts mention God and the Sabbath Day. But then it goes on, "Honor thy father, thy mother. Thou shalt not commit kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Thou shalt not covet."

I mean, if you think about it, overall, if you look at the status of just America today and you see kids killing each other and in schools and you see sexual assault cases coming about, I mean, what's wrong with a monument that has a little moral acknowledgment here?

KHAN: Well, let's talk about all of the problems society faces and Mr. Mahoney's reference to homelessness. There are about a million Alabama tax dollars right now that Justice Moore is facing the loss of, which means the state treasury has to deflect those dollars from valid, worthy causes, such as homelessness, and spend them attempting to fight what has from the beginning been a losing battle.

And that's where we need to be pointing the finger. It seems utterly inappropriate to me to victimize people like my clients and the other eight justices on the Alabama Supreme Court that are doing something laudable, which is to uphold the Constitution and show some respect for the federal courts. It is Justice Moore that should be being accused of inappropriate action by his defiance and his arrogance, thinking that he is beyond the reach and immune from the federal courts, and, frankly, from the Constitution.

PHILLIPS: Reverend, final thoughts, please?

MAHONEY: I would say that you are seeing a battle being waged here where we as a nation embrace the principles of our founders, where we embrace God and justice. And once again, we are encouraging every person who cherishes free speech and religious liberty, come now, come to Montgomery, Alabama, and be a part of history.

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