Monday, January 19, 2004

When I Say "The State" Who Do You Think I'm Talking About?

Yet another Southern Political Figure has emplaced a monument of The Ten Commandments onto public property. This time it is a City Councilman in Winston-Salem, North Carolina placing the monument in front of City Hall.

We all remember Judge Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama high court, who refused a federal court order to remove the monument he put up in the rotunda of his courthouse. He was later removed from office for that refusal. The city councilman cited Mr. Moore as his inspiration for this stunt.

I came at this debate from an angle that I haven't seen elsewhere. Judge Moore claimed that he was observing his personal freedom of expression and religion by putting the monument there and that that gave him the right to refuse the federal court order. Too bad for him that argument doesn't hold water. I would have asked Judge Moore what policy of the state was there that allowed citizens to erect monuments within the state judicial building. I doubt that just anybody with the cash could do so.

That would mean that Judge Moore placed the monument using his authority as Chief Justice. That is across the line. If Roy Moore had the pull to do that, fine, but as Chief Justice Roy Moore he was an agent of the state, and that must be a violation of the separation of Church and State. Essentially, Chief Justice Roy Moore was the State when he chose to use the public space he was in charge of to make a religious statement.

When a person is working as the authority representing a public institution, be that an elected representative, a judge, or even a public school teacher, then that person is an agent of the State. The preferences expressed by that person in those cases must be seen as the preferences of the State. So long as that person is working with the power of the State, then that person must act within the limitations of that power.

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