St. Petersburg Times editorial calls Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore “Alabama’s ayatollah” for his refusal to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from his courthouse. The commentary goes on to draw analogies with the segregationist era.

While I have always found Moore to be a clown and find his actions here contemptible, any comparisons with Iran’s ayatollahs or even George Wallace are idiotic and demonstrative of a remarkable lack of perspective. Moore’s views on church and state certainly don’t mesh with mine but they are wildly cheered by the citizens of Alabama. He’s not denying anyone the right to exercise their religion, let alone hacking off their heads or sicking dogs on them. The most he can be accused of is annoying those, like myself, who lack his religious convictions.

Incidentally, Moore is almost certainly right on the meaning of the 1st Amendment, despite recent rulings of the Supreme Court to the contrary. Well after the 1791 passage of the Bill of Rights, Connecticut had an established church until 1818, and Massachusetts until 1833–both disestablishing only by amendment to their State constitutions. In Barron v. Baltimore (1833), the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights limits the federal government, not the states.

But it is universally understood, it is a part of the history of the day, that the great revolution which established the Constitution of the United States was not effected without immense opposition. Serious fears were extensively entertained that those powers which the patriot statesmen who then watched over the interests of our country deemed essential to union, and to the attainment of those invaluable objects for which union was sought, might be exercised in a manner dangerous to liberty. In almost every convention by which the Constitution was adopted, amendments to guard against the abuse of power were recommended. These amendments demanded security against the apprehended encroachments of the General Government — not against those of the local governments. In compliance with a sentiment thus generally expressed, to quiet fears thus extensively entertained, amendments were proposed by the required majority in Congress and adopted by the States. These amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments. This court cannot so apply them.

It is only in the 1960s that the Court started to interpret “Congress shall make no law . . .respecting the Establishment of religion” to mean “nor shall the States” by a rather strange view of the 14th Amendment.

Moore’s action sets up an interesting test case of the legitimacy of the courts versus the power of elected officials. We’ll see how it comes out.

(Hat tip: Kris Vilamaa)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy K says:

    I don’t know about comparing him to George Wallace.

    But the man believes that the US should be ruled by ‘biblical law’ (his version, of course). In what significant way is this different from an Ayatollah who believes states should be ruled by Shari’ah (his version, of course)?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Kathy: Method, mainly. It’s perfectly reasonable to want the laws of the state to run by your value system. But in Alabama it’s done at the margins because most everyone has the same set of beliefs. But you can openly express your belief that there is no God, that the 10 Commandments are outdated, and that Roy Moore is an idiot and, unlike Iran or Saudi Arabia, you don’t get killed or imprisoned.