Will Moore play a role in November?

April 25, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

What am I bid for this handsome, star-spangled pamphlet, "Our Legal Heritage," signed by one Roy S. Moore? Do I hear $5? $10? $25?

What's that you say? Moore's autograph is dime-a-dozen in these parts after his appearance Friday at Boyle County High School? Anyone who wanted to flock around the man after his speech at the Foundations Festival could have his signature and flesh pressed for free?

Well, my little Moore memento is not quite so common. In fact, it is impossible to get another one like it these days. He bestowed it upon me in his office as the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, where, three floors below, his famous Ten Commandments monument still stood rock-solid in the rotunda.

"To Todd," it is inscribed. "May we make the truth manifest! Roy S. Moore, Chief Justice Alabama, 4 Oct., 2002"

Much has happened to Moore since that day. His celebrated monument was unceremoniously stuck in a closet, and he was cast out of office to drift on the swell of political tides his story has created. No one, not even Moore himself, I suspect, knows when and where he will come ashore again.


I first met Moore when I was the courts reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser and he was preparing to board the bullet train to national notoriety. It was on the eve of the long-awaited showdown in U.S. District Court over the monument, big news breaking right in my backyard.

Moore repeatedly declined requests to be interviewed for the major story series I was working on. Thus rebuked, I did what any self-respecting reporter would do: I traveled to his home turf to sniff out the "real story."

Moore grew up in Etowah County, a place not unlike Boyle County in that it is a regional hub surrounded by mostly rural counties. As a circuit judge there, Moore posted a hand-carved wooden Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom and, perhaps unwittingly, punched his ticket from small-town to big-time in 1995.

I say "perhaps unwittingly" because Moore has never struck me as a sharp enough cookie to premeditate the political strategy that lit the rocket ride his career has been on ever since. More likely, Moore truly believed the Ten Commandments belonged in his courtroom and had the courage to act on his convictions.

But once the ACLU and other liberal bogeymen aligned themselves against him, it began to dawn on Moore and his local backers they had an issue they could saddle up and ride. Media attention raised the hackles and opened the checkbooks of conservative Christians, and before you could recite the first "Thou shalt not," Roy Moore was "The Ten Commandments Judge" and overwhelmingly elected as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Eight months into that high office, Moore stole his two-ton granite monument into the state Judicial Building in the middle of the night and - Presto! - his story had a bigger stage and a fresh set of legs. "Roy's Rock" it was dubbed and needed new liberal villains like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State rose up to smite the monument down in federal court.

By this point, Moore was in a no-lose situation. Should he prevail and his monument be allowed to remain, Moore would be the hero who returned America to its Judeo-Christian heritage. Similar monuments would go up in courthouses and schools across the land. Murder and divorce rates would plummet. Kids would stop watching MTV and join the Scouts. Gay would mean "happy" again just like it did back in the day when George Washington was making the truth manifest to his father about that cherry tree.

Of course, losing can have its perks, too, and Moore and his advisers seemed to devise a strategy preordained to make a martyr out of Moore. He lost badly in court and again on appeal, refused to obey judges' orders to remove the monument, got himself removed from office and - Voila! - emerged a bigger and brighter star.

I didn't spend much time in Moore's presence after his court appearances. By the time the deadline for the monument's removal came last summer, the crowds gathered around him were too big and big talkers like Bill O'Reilly and Matt Lauer were fighting for his time.

All the world's media and thousands of supporters came to Montgomery then. They camped on the steps of Judicial Building keeping vigil over the monument and hoping to catch a glimpse of Moore. Jerry Falwell came to town. A handful of folks staged their arrests for the TV cameras. A second American Revolution was promised. Good Christian people were going to take their country back from the liberal judges, the liberal media, the liberal ACLU and everyone else to blame for steering the country so far astray it was about to lose its most-favored nation status with God.

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