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IN THE NEWS — Ten Commandments Dispute - 2003-08-29

Broadcast: August 30, 2003

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

Many people have watched a dispute over the placement of a stone marker in the American state of Alabama. The marker represents the Ten Commandments -- rules for living that some religions say came directly from God.

On Wednesday, workers removed the Ten Commandments monument from the center of a government building in Alabama. The workers acted on a court order from a federal judge. The judge had ruled that leaving the monument in a public place violated the United States Constitution.

The Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, Roy Moore, put the stone marker in the state courthouse two years ago. Mister Moore is a Christian. He was known for his support of the Ten Commandments when the state’s voters elected him chief justice in two-thousand. The Ten Commandments are a list of rules for living. Christians, Jews, and Muslims honor these directives as the word of God.

Lawyers representing several groups took legal action to have the Ten Commandments monument removed from the Alabama courthouse. They argued that putting it there was unconstitutional.

Last year, Federal District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the monument’s placement violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees that religion and government will be separate in America. Judge Thompson ordered the monument removed by August Twentieth. He said that it could be put in a private area in the courthouse.

Chief Justice Moore appealed the judge’s ruling. He argued that America’s legal system is based on the Ten Commandments. He also said he has the constitutional right to recognize God. But a federal appeals court and the United States Supreme Court both rejected his appeals.

Still, Chief Justice Moore decided to leave the monument where it was. But Alabama’s associate Supreme Court justices, the governor and the state’s lawyer disagreed. The eight judges voted last week to move the two and one-half ton marker.

Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission then suspended Chief Justice Moore on charges of violating court rules. The Court of the Judiciary could decide to punish or even remove him from the high court. Mister Moore has thirty days to answer the charges against him.

Supporters of the monument’s removal say it is a great victory for the rule of law and the honor of religious choice. But Roy Moore and his supporters have said they will continue their fight to return it to the center of the courthouse.

Under a nineteen-ninety-four federal appeals court ruling, signs with the Ten Commandments may not be placed in courthouses in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. In recent years, courts also rejected efforts to place similar signs in South Carolina and Kentucky.

This VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.