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Debate Over Separation of Church and State

Aired July 2, 2003 - 19:26   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In the 1960s the battle over civil rights led to armed showdowns between federal forces and local officials opposed to segregation. Forty years later is religion going to spark a faceoff? A federal court ruling raises that possibility anyway. Comparing Alabama's Chief Judge with southern official in the 1960s? Why Brian Cabell reports because he refuses to move a monument of the Protestant version of the ten commandments from his government building. Take a look.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is 5300 pounds of granite and controversy. The monument occupying a prominent place in the Alabama Supreme Court rotunda is engraved with the ten commandments. Chief Justice Roy Moore had it place heard two years ago and calls the federal appeals court decision to remove it a violation of the state and federal constitutions.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROY MOORE: When the courts of our land deny the existence of God and pretend to give us rights they deny the very moral foundation of our law and our government.

CABELL: Moore says he has not yet decided whether or how to appeal the decision.

He rose to prominence eight years ago when he posted the ten commandant on his court room wall in northern Alabama. In spite of or because of the controversy, he was elected chief justice in 2000. Critics say his installation of the monument a year later in the middle of the night simply went too far.

STEPHEN GLASSROTH, PLAINTIFF: He's not the chief minister he is the chief justice. It's a secular role. We don't have a chief minister and we don't have any Ayatollahs.

CABELL: The 11 circuit court judges ruled the monument was an unconstitutional promotion of religion.

For now it stays here. Chief Justice Moore has three weeks to ask for a rehearing. If that's denied then opponents will say they'll ask to have the monument removed if necessary by federal marshals.

In the meantime, Moore remains in his accustomed spot light.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's doing it purely for political reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with his principle of defending the ten commandants and I don't care where they put them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do we stop? Do we take "In God We Trust" off the dollar bills?

CABELL: The monument belongs to Moore. No word with what he'll do with it if it's removed. Brian Cabell, CNN, Montgomery, Alabama.


COOPER: It's an interesting case. Joining us to discuss it from Birmingham is Phillip Drake, he's Chief Justice Moore's attorney. And from Montgomery we have Danielle Lipow, the Southern Poverty Law Center. Appreciate both of you joining us.

Daniel let me start off with you. Basically, why did the justices reject the judge's argument?

DANIELLE LIPOW, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Justice Moore's argument is, as the judges said, very closely akin to the arguments raised by Governor Wallace in the '60s and I'm not saying here that Chief Justice Moore is a racist. I'm sure there's no evidence to suggest that. What I am saying is he is a demagogue. He has used issues that inflame Southerns to rise to political power and by installing this monument attempted to proflitize his views to the entire state.

COOPER: Now was it a particular version or was it the fact that it was particular version of the ten commandments, the Protestant version or was it the fact that it was ten commandments at all?

LIPOW: I will say neither answer is quite enough. The ten commandments do pose serious problems when displayed on government property. That's not to say they can never be displayed. But in this case, given all of the other evidence of Justice Moore's intent. He has proclaimed himself put here by God for the purpose of restoring the knowledge of his god to the land, and given that purpose, given his statements it wouldn't matter what version of the ten commandments he used.

COOPER: I want to bring in Phillip now. Phillip, does Chief Justice Moore intend to appeal this decision?

Phillip, can you hear me? this is Anderson in New York? Alright we're obviously having some IFB (ph) problems. We're going to try to get that sorted out.

Danielle let me come back to you, basically, I mean, they, from my understanding, they say they're going to take this thing onward. They are going to appeal. Who is paying for all of these lawyers who are involved in all of this.

LIPOW: Chief Justice Moore is funding his own defense and he's taken enormous donations from a televangalist ministry in Florida. Nothing wrong with that, however, when state officials violate the Constitution they put themselves at risk for plaintiff attorney's fees as well. Congress has enacted a statute that is supposed to serve -- supposed to discourage stats officials from knowingly violating the Constitution.

So in addition to his own legal fees, Justice Moore is also racking up legal fees necessary to get the monument out, to enforce the Constitution. We've asked him to pay those legal fees and from all indications, it appears, that he intends to shift that bill to the taxpayers of Alabama.

COOPER: Danielle, we're having some sound problems with our other guest which is why we just continuing to come to you. We're going to try and bring him in as soon as we can. You know, there are some who say, and you probably heard them in the piece, who say look, where does this thing stop? I mean, do we start taking "In God We Trust" off the U.S. dollar bill?

There are those who support this judge, lots of people, who say look, this man says that this man says that the 10 commandments are the bed rock of our justice system, our belief system, why not be able to proudly display it.

LIPOW: There are a number of points to be made here. First, Justice Moore was not intending to give the state or the country a history lesson when he installed this monument. He was intending to give a religious lesson. That's exactly what it is.

That's also an important distinction between the monument that we've got in the state judicial building and the motto that's been printed on money for as long as anyone can remember. This is something that doesn't even register on our consciousness and certainly doesn't register as a religious moment. Cash transactions are not things that inspire prayer among most Americans.

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it here. Danielle Lipow appreciate you joining us, and again Phillip Drake had been our other guest. We clearly had some sort of communication problem with him. Hope to talk to him at another juncture. Thank you very much for being with us Danielle.


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