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Crusaders in Alabama

August 25, 2003

Judge Roy Moore and Governor Bob Riley are two Alabama crusaders. One is fighting to keep a 5,300-pound stone monument of the Ten Commandments installed in the Alabama Judicial Building; the other is fighting to save Alabama from financial ruin. Like good Southern Baptists who believe in the "priesthood of all believers," both men have proudly and publicly cited their personal faith as motivation for their public actions. Moore says the controversial monument must stay as an acknowledgment of God's influence on the moral foundation of American law; Riley says the tax burden must be lifted from the shoulders of the poor and laid more heavily upon the wealthy because it's the "Christian thing to do." Unfortunately, it seems the crusade to save the stone monument has excited more passions and garnered more support among Christian leaders than the crusade to help the poor and needy of Alabama.

But why is that?

Are Christians leaders really too myopic to tell the difference between a lost and utterly pointless cause motivated largely by one man's ego (note: Moore's name and that of his lawyer are engraved on the monument) and political ambitions, and a noble, utterly practical and achievable cause motivated by a desire to make Alabama a better place to live? Apparently so. The week before last, a candlelight vigil was held for Moore's monument. That's right, a candlelight vigil was held for a stone monument. And last week, twenty-one people were arrested on trespassing charges for refusing to leave the monument's side. "This is an assault on God," declared one impassioned pastor who was arrested. And stirring up the cheering crowd on the court house steps, Moore preached: “I will never deny God upon whom our laws and country depend” despite the fact that all eight of his colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court, despite their own personal beliefs, chose to honor the federal order to remove the monument. Meanwhile, the Christian Coalition of Alabama came out against Riley's comprehensive tax plan that will revive state services and help the poor and needy of Alabama. In addition, the Christian Coalition of America offered only luke-warm support for Riley's tax plan, while calling Moore "one of America's most courageous leaders" and passionately urging him to stand firm against the anti-Christian forces in the judicial system. All this for a piece of stone; a graven image, if you will. All this for the delusional notion that removing it would somehow be a blow to the moral foundation of law in America. All this for something that is clearly unconstitutional (See Rutherford Legal Feature The Law on "The Law": Why Roy Moore Lost).

Meanwhile, Riley's innovative and truly faith-based plan to save Alabama from economic disaster, called "Laying the Foundation for Greatness," goes largely unsupported by Christian leaders and the citizens of Alabama as it faces a Sept. 9 statewide referendum. The plan calls for radical tax reform, increased spending on education, and asks the citizens of Alabama to share the burden. "With faith in ourselves and complete trust in Almighty God," Riley has said. "We will resolve the problems we face—together." But according to recent polls, Riley's plan stands a slim chance of passing. Alabamians have long been distrustful of their government (and especially to politicians wanting to raise taxes), and perhaps that's why the poor and middle-class of Alabama, who stand the most to gain from Riley's plan, oppose it by a margin of 2-1. Of course, that's to say nothing of the opposition coming from Riley's own political base; the Christian Coalition of Alabama, the state's big timber and farming industries, and many of his Republican colleagues. But despite the odds, Riley is sticking to his guns. "I said in the campaign we'd never transform the culture of Alabama until we had an entire administration for whom re-election wasn't the pre-eminent thing," Riley said in an interview. Could it be that a politician is acting upon purely moral principles? Might we be witnessing a political transformation in Alabama guided by commonsense and real compassion instead of partisanship and political self-preservation? Sure, given Alabama's economic situation, Riley doesn't have much of a choice. But he has decided it's time to stop doing things the same old way in Alabama. Democrats, who have been suspiciously silent about Riley's God talk, may be standing off to the side and grinning as his moral cause makes him look more and more like a tax-and-spend liberal, but that doesn't seem to bother Riley. For him it seems to be about faith and necessity and a real commitment to Alabama's future. For example, one of Riley's initiatives is to raise the income amount at which people are required to start paying taxes from $4,600 to $17,000. In promoting the initiative, Riley said: "Having a regressive tax structure is one thing. But when it starts at $4,600 for a family of four, that's immoral."

For over two decades now, the religious right and organizations like the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family have sought to bring Christian values into the political arena. So now that they have their man in the Oval Office, at the Justice Department, in governorships, and have become a political force to be reckoned with, isn't it time to follow through on the Christian promise to help the poor and the needy? Isn't it time to ask what Jesus would really do if he had a little political clout? Would he really be holding candlelight vigils for the preservation of a Ten Commandments monument? Would he really be standing proudly beside Judge Roy Moore on the court house steps? Or would he be endorsing Gov. Bob Riley's tax plan?