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Intersection of Life and Faith

Thou Shalt Not Back Down

  • 2002 9 Sep
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Thou Shalt Not Back Down

He usually stops at nine laps, but not today. Today, even though the heat and humidity refuse to join the sun in disappearing for the night, even though he's already worked up a respectable sweat by throwing weights around for the better part of an hour, Roy Moore has decided to take one more trip around the oval out in back of the Prattville, Ala., YMCA.

 

This is of absolutely zero interest to the half dozen men and women sharing the track with him -- and why should it be? Out here, he's just another guy in a T-shirt and jogging shorts looking to burn off whatever energy's left after a 10-hour workday. Even if they did notice some stranger was pushing himself a little harder today, they'd be oblivious to how that extra fifth of a mile helps explain why this stranger is arguably the most loved and most hated man in Alabama.

 

See, all the things it takes to conquer a 10th lap when nine is your norm -- confidence, training, endurance, faith and the unshakeable certainty that giving up is not an option -- those aren't qualities Roy Moore exhibits only in running shoes. He's lived by them, lived off them, all his life, a 55-year journey of ups and turns and downs and twists that now finds him, as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, looking to set a legal precedent from the other side of the bench.

 

This fall, he'll head to federal court to defend his placement of a Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building -- and if you don't think the other side is in for the fight of its life, well, you didn't see him attack that last lap of black asphalt.

 

"This has to be answered," Moore says of the issue that's become his calling card. "This country wasn't founded upon Allah; it wasn't founded upon the Quran. It was founded upon the Holy Bible. And the question is whether we're going to take a stand and acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our law, because historically we could."

 

The story of how Moore came to be known nationwide as the "Ten Commandments judge" traditionally begins in 1992, when he hung a homemade rosewood plaque etched with God's laws in his Etowah County courtroom. The American Civil Liberties Union sued him, alleging a violation of the separation of church and state; Moore didn't just refuse to take the plaque down, he refused to acknowledge that America's founders ever intended church and state to be separate. The case got thrown out, and the judge parlayed the popularity his stand earned him into a successful run for the top job in the state's highest court -- where he promptly commissioned a 2 1/2 ton stone monument of the Commandments and the ACLU promptly sued him again.

 

As Moore himself will tell you, though, no three-sentence summary of the last decade can adequately describe how God brought him to this moment and what He's brought him through en route. To tell that story, you have to go all the way back to Feb. 11, 1947.

 

That was the day Roy Stuart Moore was born -- an arrival that came, not so coincidentally as it turns out, less than 24 hours after a ruling was issued in Everson v. Board of Education, the first case in modern history in which the U.S. Supreme Court said there was, indeed, a constitutionally mandated separation between church and state.

 

A Father's Influence

 

"I came from a very humble background," Moore says matter-of-factly, with a drawl that's standard-issue this side of the Mason-Dixon line. "We moved around a lot, to Texas when I was in the first or second grade, then back here. I changed schools six or seven times, and after we got back to Alabama we seemed to have lost all level of income.

 

"We didn't even have an indoor toilet when I was in high school," he adds. "We plowed with mules. Cut wood with a crosscut saw. When I was president of the student body, I was cleaning tables after other kids. That's how I got my food."

 

What Dad couldn't provide materially through his work in construction, he offered young Roy and his siblings spiritually through the faith and selflessness he modeled at home. Moore doesn't recall his father going to church much, but he does remember him as a man with a sincere love for the Lord who was quick to give to others from the family's meager resources.

 

"He worried about people who didn't have things," Moore says. "That's the way my daddy was -- he'd give you the shirt off his back."

 

Today, Roy Baxter Moore's influence is easy to spot in his eldest son. You can hear it in the poetry the judge has been writing since 1980, sweet, simple rhymes with titles like "The Faded Black Book" and "One More Day" that explore the sufficiency of God's provision and loving your neighbor as yourself. You can see it in the chief justice's disdain of position -- even though his job comes with a salary of more than $150,000 and status as one of state's most powerful men, none of Montgomery's country clubs can count him as a member. And if you do happen to recognize him at the Y, you also can spot his dad's influence in the two words screened on his gray T-shirt: West Point.

 

Join us for Part Two, tomorrow.

 

AP Photo/Dave Martin