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Monumental Fight in Alabama

Aired August 25, 2003 - 20:08   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And that controversial Ten Commandments monument remains in the rotunda of the Alabama judicial building at this hour, a live picture of it right now. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore continues to battle a federal court order that the monument be removed.
We have two guests in Montgomery, Alabama.

Phillip -- Phillip, you're going to have to pronounce your name, because I've been given six different variations. I might as well get it right, right off the start. How do you say your last name?


ZAHN: Jauregui, OK. I'll know .

JAUREGUI: Yes, you got it. That's right. That's right.

ZAHN: All right. He happens to be with the legal team defending Judge Moore. And Richard Cohen is chief legal counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is trying to have the monument removed.

Welcome to both of you.


ZAHN: Richard, the first question I have to you, what would be the harm in allowing the Ten Commandments to remain in display, as they are tonight?

RICHARD COHEN, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Well, it is a clear government endorsement or promotion of religion. Justice Moore has used the monument to promote his version of Christianity. And the government really can't play favorites when it comes to something so important as religion, Paula.

ZAHN: And how do you see this as playing favorites?

COHEN: Well, Justice Moore said that his religion is supreme over the state of Alabama. He's hauled in a monument to his faith. And the clients that we represented were offended by that.

ZAHN: And what so deeply offended them about that?

COHEN: Well, I think they feel very deeply that government should keep its hand off religion, that religion thrives in this country precisely because government doesn't have anything to do with it.

ZAHN: Well, what about that, Phillip? I know you have made note of previous interviews about our currency saying "In God we trust," about prayers being read -- or said -- in Congress. Your reaction to what Richard has just had to say?

JAUREGUI: Well, what Richard said is interesting and it's part of the debate.

But what we have got to get back to, this whole debate is only occurring in the academic circles. It is not occurring with regard to the Constitution. The Constitution has already been written. And the issue in this case is so clear. The issue in this case is whether Chief Justice Moore's placement of the monument in the building here constitutes Congress making a law respecting an establishment of religion. Certainly, it doesn't.

And none of the federal courts, neither the plaintiffs, none of them, have been able to show that the monument constitutes a law respecting an establishment of religion.

ZAHN: But, as you know, Phillip, a lot of people are saying that Judge Moore took an oath to uphold the law. And they think he's disregarding the laws right now.

JAUREGUI: No, no, he hasn't.

The law in this case is the Constitution. Chief Justice Moore is standing with the Constitution. We got to remember, Chief Justice Moore is unlike me and he's unlike the other folks here. He's not just a citizen. He took an oath with his hand on the Bible and solemnly swore, so help him God, to support the Constitution of the state of Alabama and of the United States. This isn't a case where he has a decision whether he can obey both the federal order and his oath to the Constitution.

He has to make a decision. And given than decision, he's making the correct decision, which is to follow his oath.

ZAHN: And what about that, Richard, that the chief justice saying he can't obey both oaths?

COHEN: If Justice Moore can't follow the law, then he should resign. Right now, he's in defiance of a federal court order. The order was affirmed by three judges on the court of appeals. And nine justices on the United States Supreme Court refused to stay the decision. So he's in defiance of 13 federal judges. And his position just has no merit.

ZAHN: Why, Phillip, do you think that these associate judges that Richard Cohen just pointed out have defied Judge Moore?

JAUREGUI: Well, I wouldn't put it in those terms necessarily. What they have done is, they've reacted to what the federal court has done. And so, in order to address this question, we have got to continue to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. And just to clarify, they did deny our motion for stay last week, but they did not deny our present writ that is at the court right now to ask them to issue a writ of mandamus and/or prohibition. We plan to file another writ, a petition for cert, within the next month.

ZAHN: And, Richard, what does that mean to your side?

COHEN: That's great. He can pursue his legal avenues.

But right now, he's under an order to get the monument out. And instead of doing it, he's kind of defying federal law, just like George Wallace did a generation ago. And people in Alabama have got to move beyond that and kind of push themselves into the 21st century.

ZAHN: And, Phillip, you get the final word tonight.

What will be the impact if the Ten Commandments ultimately are removed, on all the folks who are standing by there this evening?

JAUREGUI: Well, that's a decision that is before the Alabama Supreme Court. And, unfortunately, they have voted to have it removed.

But if I may, Chief Justice Moore is not in violation of federal law. It is the federal courts who are defying federal law. The law in this case is the Constitution, the First Amendment, which says, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. The monument in this building does not constitute Congress making a law respecting an establishment of religion. It is the chief justice who placed this monument here, but that's not Congress making a law.

ZAHN: Richard, you get the last word. I can only give you 10 seconds, sir.

COHEN: Well, if Phillip's argument was right, every courthouse in America could have a giant crucifix on top of it. The courts have consistently rejected his position.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, I'm going to have to leave it there. Phillip Jauregui, Richard Cohen, appreciate both of your perspectives.

JAUREGUI: Thank you, Paula.

COHEN: Thank you, Paula.


ZAHN: Our pleasure.


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