Close Encounters With Roy Moore

In June, 2011, when Roy Moore was flirting with a run for president, he paid a visit to Heritage Community Church in Severn, Maryland. Moore was at the time best known having been removed from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, a result of his refusal to comply with a federal court order to remove a 2.6 ton monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court. For this, at Heritage Community Church, Moore was a hero, and the assembled crowd relished his meandering, homespun disquisition on the sovereignty of God’s law over the laws created by men.

Moore is in the news again—and again, it’s over his defiance of the authority of federal courts to decide matters of Constitutional law. His claim that a federal district court’s ruling striking down Alabama’s constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage is invalid, and his subsequent order to Alabama’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, stem from the same ideology that drove his Ten Commandments spectacle: that politicians, judges, and the “tyranny of men” are trying, unconstitutionally, to subvert God’s law.

Moore’s actions have led to comparisons to George Wallace, Alabama’s segregationist former governor. But while the comparison is quite apt, reducing Moore’s ideology to state’s rights obscures the centrality of religion to his claims, and of how his ideology drives conservative claims about church-state separation, federalism, and the role of government.

That Friday night in Severn, Moore was speaking to a gathering of the Institute on the Constitution, a fringe educational group run by Maryland lawyer, former Constitution Party presidential candidate, and current member of the Anne Arundel County Council, Michael Peroutka. Back in 2010 and 2011, I made an irregular habit of attending the IOTC’s First Friday gatherings, at which there was typically an out-of-town celebrity speaker (Moore’s was particularly well-attended, with a few hundred people in the audience), covering topics near and dear to the IOTC’s unorthodox view of the Constitution. The Constitution, they claim, is a divine document designed only to protect the rights conferred by God, not to create “new” rights by way of jurisprudence. For all you law school graduates shaking your head as you read this, Peroutka, Moore, and their followers claim that the law schools are teaching it all wrong—that’s why they’ve created their own law schools.

Peroutka, not incidentally, is given to outbursts of affection for the Confederacy. (While running for the county council last year, he resigned his membership with the secessionist group League of the South, which, along with Peroutka’s candidacy in general, had become an embarrassment to Maryland Republicans.) When introducing Moore’s protégé, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, in 2010, Peroutka cheerfully deemed Parker’s alma mater Dartmouth on the “wrong” side of the Mason-Dixon Line, but his law school, Vanderbilt, on the “right” side. In presenting Moore with a “Spirit of Daniel” award for courage, Peroutka gleefully noted that he was doing so on Jefferson Davis’s birthday. (The award was given because Moore “resisted a government that thought it was God.”)

That showdown between God and government is at the heart of Moore’s claims that he is on the side of righteousness and the federal courts on the side of an anti-God, unconstitutional “tyranny.” Moore believes there is a separation of church and state—but he believes it’s one that distinguishes America from royal monarchies. In other words, the government is separated from the church in that the government is barred from running the church, and it can’t tell the church what to do. Public schools, in his view, are “controlled by government,” and impose secularism; he favors tax credits for homeschooling because that’s “the right of the parent.”

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered,” Moore told the Severn audience. “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph,” he added, noting that “we’re going to see a glorious triumph because of men like” Peroutka.

Peroutka asked Moore whether he believed that “those in charge of America, regardless of their political affiliation, are not just imbecilic, or ignorant, but really are the enemies of America? Are we in the hands of the enemy?”

Moore, who graduated from West Point and served in Vietnam, is fond of reiterating the he has sworn to uphold Constitution against enemies, both foreign and domestic. He readily agreed that America has been overtaken by enemies within. “Our government is infiltrated with communists, we’ve got Muslims coming in and taking over where we should be having the say about our principles.” And more: “I’m not so sure some in government don’t want to destroy our country.”

Moore’s enemy list was long that night, particularly when it came to immigration matters. By failing to protect the borders, he said, the government was failing to “to protect against invasions.” Moore added, incredulously, “They’re letting anybody come in!”

He called for the impeachment of Supreme Court justices over the 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down Texas anti-sodomy laws. He decried Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down laws banning the sale of birth control, because the justices “made it up, “referring to privacy rights. (Ditto Roe v. Wade, of course.) The Supreme Court, he concluded, “does everything to undermine” the Constitution.

Moore was particularly disgusted with President Obama’s declaration of June as LGBT Pride month. “If you really want to get sick, go to the White House website and look up the proclamations,” Moore told the audience. “One of them says [LGBT people] strengthen the national fabric,” and another says “the story of America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is the story of our fathers, sons, our mothers, daughters, friends and neighbors who continue the task of making our country a more perfect union.”

Moore and his protégé Parker, who spoke to the IOTC in 2010 on the topic, favor the election, rather than the appointment of judges, to guard against the judicial “tyranny” they claim is undermining the Constitution, and therefore, God’s law. A woman in the audience, who said that Obama was not qualified to be president, based on another IOTC-promoted claim that he was not a “natural-born citizen,” asked, “how do we prevent people who don’t worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from holding political office in America?”

To his credit, Moore admitted there’s no way to stop that, because “it’s up to the people” to elect leaders. In Alabama, where judges are elected, that has meant the voters gave Moore another chance to turn their state into an embarrassment.