Was the United States founded as a "Christian nation"? For many conservative Christians there is no question about it. In fact, this is one of the primary ideas animating and informing the Christian right in the US. We are likely to hear a great deal about it this election year - thanks to Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who is at the center of a national campaign to alter the course of history. Depending on whom you talk to, Mr. Moore is alternately a hero, a crackpot, or a demagogue.
Whatever one's view, Moore, known to many as "the Ten Commandments judge," has come to personify a revisionist view of American history - one that, if it gains wide currency, threatens to erode the culture, and constitutional principle, of religious pluralism in the US.
Moore's story is already the stuff of legend. After being elected chief justice, he had a 5,280-pound monument to the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of Alabama's state judicial building in 2001. Moore insisted he had a First Amendment right to "acknowledge God" as the "moral foundation of law." The result of the inevitable lawsuit was US District Judge Myron Thompson's decision that Moore had violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by creating "a religious sanctuary within the walls of a courthouse." When Moore refused to remove the rock, he was removed from office.
Judge Thompson got it right. But Moore and his allies see the decision as a defining moment in their campaign to "overthrow judicial tyranny." At stake over the long haul is the authority of the courts to protect individual civil rights against religious and political majoritarianism.
On one front, leaders on the Christian Right are organizing Ten Commandments rallies across the country. The charismatic Moore is often the headliner. A recent rally in Dallas drew 5,000 people. Meanwhile in Congress, US Rep. Robert Aderholt (R) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R), both of Alabama, have introduced a bill (written by Moore and his lawyer) that would remove jurisdiction from the federal courts over all matters involving the "acknowledgement of God" in the public arena, including school prayer, the pledge of allegiance, and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. The Constitution Restoration Act would be retroactive, apparently to undo many federal and Supreme Court decisions - such as Moore's case.