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Thou Shalt Not Stop Praying in This Judge's Courtroom

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To many Christians in Alabama and across the country, Judge Roy Moore is a hero. Ministers from as far away as West Virginia have come to visit him. Some 6,000 people attended a prayer rally in his honor. Two Norwegians on Rollerblades even came by to see him.

Mr. Moore, a circuit judge in Gadsden, Ala., is being praised for what he does - and won't do. He displays a tablet of the Ten Commandments, which he carved himself, behind his courtroom bench. He also begins jury selection with prayer. What he won't do is stop either practice.

In a state with a strong religious tradition, Moore's courtroom has become the latest battleground over the separation of church and state. On one side are a growing chorus of conservatives and others who say the judge is standing up to the assault on religious beliefs. On the other side are those who argue that Moore and the state don't have the right to promote religious beliefs.

The debate has become so heated that Alabama Gov. Fob James (R) has vowed to call out the National Guard and state troopers if anyone tries to remove prayer or the Ten Commandments from the judge's courtroom.

At the same time, many legal scholars are watching to see if the case - which the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama brought against Moore a year ago - will go to the US Supreme Court.

"Because of Governor James's resolution to stand by [Moore] ... this has gotten a lot of attention and since there's never been a decision by the US Supreme Court on judicial prayer, it's a likely case that may go up," says Eric Johnston, president of the Rutherford Institute of Alabama, a conservative civil-liberties organization.

The case began in 1995 when the ACLU filed a suit in federal court on behalf of two Etowah County citizens who objected to Moore's use of prayer in court. James filed a countersuit on behalf of Moore in Montgomery Circuit Court. The presiding judge found both the prayer and the display of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional. He ordered Moore to stop the prayer and said he could display the Ten Commandments as long as he included them with other historic or cultural items.

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