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Alabama's Top Judge Fights For Commandments Monument

Aired August 19, 2003 - 19:48   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: There is, in fact, another cultural battle that is playing out in Alabama. This is over religion's role in government.
Judge Roy Moore is asking higher courts to allow him to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments at the state courthouse. But a federal court has already told him it's got to go.

Judge Moore says he's going to defy that federal order if need be.

And that has our Bruce Burkhardt thinking about Alabama's history of butting heads with Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROY MOORE, ALABAMA CHIEF JUSTICE: But today that freedom is being taken from us by federal courts.

BRUCE BURKARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (vooice-over): William Faulker once said of the South, "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even passed."

He could have been speaking of what's going on in Alabama right now. The spectacle of the chief justice of the state, an elected official, defiantly refusing to obey a federal court order.

The issue was very different, race and civil rights then. Religion today. Judge Moore's refusal to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state judicial building. But Alabama seems to have a knack for taking on these kind of fights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It might be something about our state motto, which, translated from the Latin means, "We dare defend our rights."

BURKARDT: That's how Tom Parker, a spokesman for Judge Moore, sees this Alabama tradition.

But Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which helped to bring the suit against Judge Moore, sees it as a legacy of demagoguery that goes back to the Civil War.

MORRIS DEES, FOUNDER, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: It was a firey Alabama orator, William Lounge Yancey (ph), that made the speech that supposedly convinced the other states to secede from the rest of the nation. RANDALL WILLIAMS, MONTGOMERY PUBLISHER: We've seen lots of those showdowns over the years. I mean, you know, we've had them starting with the bus boycott case here in 1955, the freeddom riots case in 1961, the cases over the years where the federal court has had to step in and force, you know, Alabama officials to do what the law, you know, you know, mandates.

 BURKHARDT: But supporters of Judge Moore call that judicial tyranny, the same argument used by George Wallace when he stood in the schoolhouse door.

DEES: But here it's the courthouse door, and the symbol he picked was not race, but it was religion.

JOHN GILES, CHRISTIAN COALITION OF ALABAMA: And I think they're two totally different issues and that totally clouds the picture. This is totally different. This is about a constitutional matter.

BURKHARDT: Different times, a different issue. Once again, the national spotlight falls on Alabama.

(on camera): Why does Alabama get involved in these kind of battles, these kind of federal-state showdowns?

WILLIAMS: Well, somebody has to make history and maybe we get to be the lucky ones, you know, who do it.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Montgomery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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