…although I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him.
In case you haven’t been following the news, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been permanently suspended without pay for the remainder of his term by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) for ethics violations related to his actions in the aftermath of the United States Supreme Court decision Obergefell v Hodges, which ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right toÂ marriage. Moore must also pay court costs. The fact that, at age 69, Moore will be barred by law from re-election in 2018 is just icing on the cake.
Alabama isÂ America’s perennial second-worst stateÂ (I’m lookin’ at you, Mississippi!), Â consistently ranking near or at the bottom forÂ just about anything you’d care to measure: poverty, health, teen pregnancy, etc. Alabama also ranks at the very top for religiosity: a recent Pew Research poll revealed that 77% of Alabamians “say religion is very important in their lives.” And let’s be clear: by “religious” AlabamiansÂ mean “evangelical fundamentalist Protestantism,” the infamously conservative, regressive strain of Christianity that hates abortion and gays with near equal intensity, and (troublesome for the rest of us) insists that everybody else does, too. [There is a strong correlation between religiosity and lack of education, which leads to the high levels of misery outlined above, but details of that are a discussion for another day.]
Which brings us back to Roy Moore. What’s so frustrating about Alabama’s now-suspended Chief Justice is that, with his resume, he could have been a force for good in the state. Rising from humble beginnings, he graduated from West Point, served in Vietnam, was appointed a circuit judge in 1992, and was elected Chief Justice (for the first time) in 2000.
Unfortunately, Moore’s burning religiosity and abrasive personality have tainted his career almost from the beginning. He was so hated by his troops in Vietnam he feared being fragged, and while a circuit judge he could not resist forcing his religious beliefs on everyone else, prominently posting a hand-carved Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom and inviting clergy to lead jurors in prayer before deliberations. This led to a long and complicated lawsuit in the mid-1990s that Moore basically lost until the state supreme court threw it out on a technicality.
(As an aside, my entrance into freethought activism beganÂ around this time, when I attended a presentation at the Atlanta Freethought Society by one of jurors who objected to Moore’s shenanigans. At that presentation I met several people who are friends to this day, and I have been involved in the freethought community and secular movement ever since.)
Riding a wave of pious indignation, Moore was elected as the state’s Chief Justice in 2000, in which capacity he upped the ante by having a 2.5-ton marble Ten Commandments monument installed in the Alabama Judicial Building. The ensuing kerfuffle ended with the Ten Commandments removed from the building, and Moore removed from office by the JIC for ethical violations. Moore spent his years of exile honing his crackpot theories on the “moral foundations of the law” (meaning his own narrow, willful misinterpretation of the relationship–of which there is none, really–between Christianity and the Constitution).
Of course, no one ever lost money betting against the stupidity of the American voter, and in 2012 we was returned by Alabamians to the office of Chief Justice. At first it looked like he would stay below the radar, but soon he butted heads with the federal courts when he issued an administrative order in the wake of Obergefell v Hodges, ordering that “Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.” Which was unadulterated bullshit, since the opinion of the United States Supreme Court was crystal clear that states cannot deny couples the right to marry based on sexual preference. Period, end of sentence.
And so, Roy Moore finds himself permanently retired from the Alabama judiciary, and all freedom-loving, rational-thinking Americans should rejoice. But we should not be blind to the fact that there are many avenues still open to Moore’s mischief: he could run for Governor, for Congress or (although unlikely) for President. At the very least, he’ll continue to write columns and books spouting his church-and-state claptrap, and there are countless venues that will provide him a platform. Vigilance against Moore’s special strain of religious fascism is warranted for the foreseeable future.