When a judge tells you to do something, you do it. Unless, apparently, you are a judge.

So it has been with Roy Moore, the Alabama chief justice who defied courts and colleagues for two years in a stubborn refusal to remove a 5,200-pound monument of the Ten Commandments.

Never mind that Moore was the one who ordered the monument made (and here I thought judges could only order gavels and robes).

And never mind that Moore had it snuck in to the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building in the middle of the night (and here I thought entering government property after midnight could land you in jail).

And never mind that every time a court told Moore his action was illegal, he told it, in righteous tones, where to stick it. (And here I thought that put you in contempt of court.)

Never mind any of that. Moore turned his tablets into a headache of international proportions. On the same street where George Wallace once proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Moore proclaimed, “My way of thinking now, tomorrow and forever!”

And he did a lot of damage.

It’s not Church vs. State

By now, people will have lined up on this column. Some will think me anti-religion. Others will insist there’s no such thing as separation of church and state in our constitution. Others will say our forefathers were Christians so this country is supposed to run on Christian law.

And all of them will miss the point. This whole Alabama thing — which ended, at least temporarily, with the removal of the monument last week — was never about religion. It was about Roy Moore’s ego.

Because the chief justice likes to quote scripture, let me to do the same:

“Clothe yourself in humility in your dealings with one another.” (Peter 5:5)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit . . .” (Philippians 2:3)

“He who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” (Romans 13:1-2a)

There’s more where that came from. Moore, ignoring his own Christian edicts toward humility and submission, created an issue, fanned the flames of the issue, and divided people — including many devout Christians — over the issue. And he had no right to do that.

Ask yourself this: Did lawbreakers behave any differently in Alabama before that monument versus after? Was there ever a hue and cry for the monument before Moore put it there?

Why, even the removal of the monument — which, if you believed the media overkill, should have led to a biblical flood — was only protested by about 150 people. There are 200,000 people in Montgomery alone, and 4 million in Alabama.

Perhaps this wasn’t as crucial an issue as Moore and the media would have had us believe.

It’s all about Hollywood

Do you know where many of the Ten Commandments plaques in government buildings originally came from? The movie. That’s right. In the 1950s, producer Cecil B. DeMille, who made “The Ten Commandments,” helped organize the distribution of 4,000 tablets, and Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner went around to ceremonies. A movie promotion!

And here we are in 2003, spitting venom at each other.

Look. I was raised religiously. I believe in the Ten Commandments. I have no objection to Moore being fervent, but he should quit the judiciary and become a preacher.

The fact is, this nation is for everyone — not just me. If a Hindu or Muslim, dressed in traditional garb, walks up the steps of a courthouse and sees “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” he might wonder if he’s going to get a fair shake inside. And that’s wrong. He’s not going to church. He’s going to court.

Moore, as a judge, had an obligation to do what he demands those in his courtroom do — obey the law. Instead he ignored it repeatedly, in favor of fist-pounding declarations that he was divinely above it. In doing so, the chief justice acted as if he were in charge of our souls. Thanks, but I’ll let a Higher Authority handle that.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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