Even outside of Alabama, people have heard about the state's new Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. He is known as the Ten Commandments Justice for his insistence on hanging a plaque containing them onto the courtroom wall. Although most people barely gave it notice, a small minority raised a considerable ruckus over it and insisted that it was unconstitutional and violated the principle of separation of church and state.
After winning his seat on the Supreme Court in 2000, Moore decided to be a little more modest with his holy scripture and relegated it to the wall of his office, where it was out of sight of most of the public. Soon the opponents discontinued their protests.
But Moore had a surprise for them in August 2001. Visitors to the state's judicial building got quite a shock when they found a huge new 5,280-pound granite monument right in the middle of the building's rotunda. On it was carved the Ten Commandments.
Moore had the monument installed the previous day late in the afternoon after all of the other justices and their staff had gone home. It arrived on a truck and was carried inside on a large forklift. A couple of security guards witnessed it but made no effort to stop it. After all, Roy Moore was the top dog in that building.
Moore insisted that the monument was funded entirely from private sources and that no taxpayers' money was used. He must have paid a considerable premium to have it dressed down to weigh exactly 5,280 pounds. He apparently meant for it to be a milestone of some sort. There is no mention as to whether he had an engineer certify that the rotunda floor could support the weight, but so far, it has not shown any sign of failure.
As soon as the news media mentioned the monument, protesters cried foul louder than ever before, but Moore somehow managed to brush them aside and keep the monument in the building. The loudest outcry came from State Representative Alvin Holmes, who is always spouting off about something. Holmes insisted on putting another monument in there to honor his "hero," Dr. Martin Luther King, as if he didn't have enough monuments in Montgomery already.
There is a legitimate argument against mixing religion with politics. A graphic example is the fundamentalist Taliban Moslems who have spread terror all over the world. If the Ten Commandments can be displayed there, what about the Koran? Thomas Jefferson saw the potential for serious mischief if religion was recognized in any way as a state function.
Furthermore, most of the Ten Commandments don't correspond to justice in a courtroom. The first four address worshipping the Lord, not man's treatment of his fellows. Only three--thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor--have direct applications under law.
So what about something suitable for our government to keep in mind? It would be really great for any court to have a just set of rules to ensure that it gives every individual a fair shake. Courts have a very important function, and abuses should never be tolerated.
So here is a set of rules suitable for any court in the world, the Ten Commandments of Justice:
1. Thou shalt always uphold the doctrine of equal justice under law.
2. Thou shalt always assume innocence until convicted beyond reasonable doubt.
3. Thou shalt not use the courts to achieve publicity, glory or financial gain.
4. Thou shalt not impose unreasonable fees, regulations or other burdens onto any defendant, nor upon conviction any excessive, abusive or unreasonable fines, sentences or other punishments, nor any punishment out of proportion to the magnitude of the offense.
5. Thou shalt not charge or convict anyone for an act that has no victim, or anyone who has made a genuine honest mistake, or anyone for an act of nature or the actions of others beyond his control or knowledge.
6. Thou shalt respect the liberty, life, property and privacy of every individual and uphold his right to each.
7. Thou shalt reject all cases and charges that are unreasonably trivial or frivolous.
8. Thou shalt not incarcerate anyone for an unreasonable time while awaiting trial, and if a delay is unavoidable, thou shalt release the defendant on his own recognizance until the trial can take place.
9. Thou shalt select juries at random and refuse to reject any juror except one who in his own opinion feels that he may not be able to render an unbiased verdict.
10. Thou shalt not pursue the state's prosecutions against individuals with greater intensity than individuals' prosecutions against the state.