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Interview With Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Aired September 2, 2003 - 20:02   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Our to top story tonight, the Moses of Alabama. That is what supporters of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore call him. Moore is suspended from the Alabama bench for defying a federal order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state Supreme Court. And through it all, Moore has remained defiant.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROY MOORE, ALABAMA SUPREME COURT: You see, separation of church and state never was meant to separate God from our government. It was never meant to separate God from our law.


ZAHN: And Justice Moore joins me now for this exclusive interview.

Welcome. Glad to have you with us tonight.

MOORE: Nice to be here, Paula.

ZAHN: You have long been known as the Ten Commandments judge. Where were you when Roy's rock was moved?

MOORE: Well, I was at home taking my son to the hospital. He had to have an examination, an MRI on his head that morning. And I was at home.

ZAHN: And how outraged were when you found out that that was the ruling you were going to have to live by?

MOORE: Well, I was extremely disappointed, disappointed in the officials of our state who have let this happen, disappointed that they would let a judge threaten the state of Alabama to remove acknowledgement of God, which is fundamental to our state and our justice system under the Constitution of Alabama.

Without acknowledgement of God, we have no justice system, according to the Constitution. And that, I'm sworn to uphold.

ZAHN: Your own attorney general suggested that perhaps you view yourself as above the law?

MOORE: Well, you've got to consider what the law is.

And that's the problem. Many people think that what a judge says is law. Indeed, judges can't make the law. Judges, just like anybody else, are under the law. That's why we have rule of law. That law is the Constitution of the United States. And the Constitution of the United States is very clear in saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

When a judge, a federal district judge, says, I don't know what the words mean, but this is what I think they mean, he's entering into a lawless order when he enters the fact that you can't acknowledge God in your Constitution. And that's what happened. I'm not defying the law. I'm upholding the law.

ZAHN: Well, you also have some 13 other states out there facing potential conflicts that you have just witnessed. Do you have any travel plans?

MOORE: Well, I'm traveling around speaking on this issue, because there's so many that don't understand it.

They don't understand what the Constitution says, what the First Amendment's about. What the Alabama Constitution says is very clear. And I think there's too many things going on in this country about the removal of God from our life. And it's fundamental. Actually, the organic law of our country establishes God as the basis for our justice system.

ZAHN: But when your own attorney general, who actually personally has no problem with the display of the Ten Commandments, comes out and says that you defied a federal court order, that you are not above the law, and that you should have followed through with what the federal court told you to do.

MOORE: Again, the attorney general is under the law, just like I am. And when that law is being violated, when it's an unlawful order -- and I just was brought this information about Morris Dees, who is -- the Southern Poverty Law Center, who is in the case against us.

This is what he said in "The Washington Post" about our attorney general and his actions. He said: "The heat of this battle certainly matured this young man," Dees said of Pryor. "His actions behind the scenes to orchestrate the state officials handling these things saved Alabama from constitutional crisis."

Now, it bothers me that there's things going on behind the scenes to orchestrate the denial of our right to acknowledge God under the Constitution. That bothers me.

ZAHN: His group also suggested that the way you framed the argument, people felt that what you were saying, if you weren't in favor of the public's display of the Ten Commandments, you weren't in favor of God. Is that really what you were saying?

MOORE: No, no, no, no, no.

In fact, the judge in this case said, this case is not about the Ten Commandments. He said, he's not saying the Ten Commandments are wrong in a public building. He is saying this case is about the acknowledgement of God. He said -- and I quote -- and I've got his quote here -- "The issue is, can the state acknowledge God?" And he said no. And if he tells Alabama that they can't acknowledge God, he destroys the very foundation of our justice system, a system I'm sworn to uphold.

And as chief administrative officer, it's my job to administer the justice system in Alabama. That includes acknowledging God as its basis. When he says you can't do that, you can't do your job.

ZAHN: I know you say this is about God. But, clearly, when you ran on a platform as the Ten Commandments justice, there are a lot of people out there who say this is just as much about self-promotion. Do you concede that this battle in some circles has made you more popular than ever, and, as some have suggested, a real martyr?

MOORE: Well, you've got to -- this battle has caused me to suffer a disqualification in office right now. I can't even -- I'm disqualified from acting as a judge. That's not a good political move, in my opinion.

This is about your oath of office. It is about God, because that's what the judge said it was about. That's not what I said. That's what he said. He said, this is the issue in this case. And this is an issue that has plagued this country for 40 years. The government, the federal courts, have said you can acknowledge God as long as you don't mean it.

ZAHN: And, in the Ten Commandments, I guess we have three different interpretations here. I looked at today in research how Christians vs. Jews and even certain sects of Catholicism view the Ten Commandments slightly differently when it comes to the language.

But let's just say two of the commandments clearly are against the law. And the question a lot of people are posing is, why do you need to put up in a public space something about thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, when in fact that is not even against the law?

MOORE: Well, coveting is not one of those things that is a forum of mine, but it leads to other violations of laws, like stealing and adultery and so forth.

And the commandment "I am Lord thy God," you say that's against the law, it's actually the basis for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The acknowledgement of God was the very basis we had for, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

You see, the word religion was the duties we owe to the creator and the manner of discharging those duties. That was the definition used by the United States Supreme Court and all our founding fathers. And when this judge said, in his own words, that he could not define religion and thought it dangerous and unwise to define religion, he can't enter a lawful order. He can't interpret the law. The law is above the courts.

ZAHN: Finally, I can only give you 10 seconds to answer this question. In spite of how passionately you believe what you're saying, what are the chances you will ever end back up on the bench?

MOORE: Well, we'll proceeding right now to the Supreme Court of the United States. We'll file a writ of certiorari probably within two weeks going before the Supreme Court.

And we hope that the Supreme Court will recognize the states' rights to acknowledge God. It's outside the federal jurisdiction to intrude their powers into the state and tell us how we can establish our justice system.

ZAHN: So you're saying you're optimistic you're going to get your job back?


ZAHN: Chief Justice Roy Moore, thank you for dropping by here on the set tonight.

MOORE: Thank you. Thank you.


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