When I heard the news that Roy Moore had won the Alabama Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate, my first question was, “Who’s Roy Moore?”
I remembered the name as being the same as the judge who refused to comply with the law and remove a Ten Commandments monument that he had commissioned for the Alabama Judicial Building, but I thought it couldn’t possibly be the same person. After all, that Roy Moore had been removed from his position because he was unwilling to obey the laws he was sworn to uphold. I assumed that this would have demonstrated to people of all ideological stripes that Judge Moore was unfit to hold any future position of public trust. I was confident that voters wouldn’t make the mistake of elevating him to federal office.
Clearly, I underestimated the current strain of extremism in the Republican Party.
I recognize that there are many who applauded then-Judge Moore’s refusal to comply with the law on the grounds that the law was wrong. That was Moore’s own position when he was once again elected to the position of Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2013, but was once again removed when he refused to honor the Supreme Court decision that overturned Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage. He complained that too many held “obedience of a court order superior to all other concerns, even the suppression of belief in the sovereignty of God.”
But that’s nonsense. Moore failed to recognize the distinction between a private citizen and a judge. Individuals who engage in civil disobedience over matters of conscience should not be held to the same standard as a judge who picks and chooses which laws he will enforce. A Chief Justice that ignores laws he doesn’t like completely undermines the integrity of the Constitution.
Roy Moore calls to mind a different Moore, or, rather, Sir Thomas More, a true man of God who was beheaded because he refused to betray his conscience. The story of Thomas More was dramatized in a play and later movie titled “A Man for All Seasons,” in which More and a character named William Roper discuss the importance of enforcing the law without prejudice.
“So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!” Roper says.
“Yes,” More replies. “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
“I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” says Roper.
“Oh?” asks More. “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
Roy Moore could learn a thing or two from Thomas More. And, for their own safety’s sake, Republican voters would be wise to stop putting their trust in extremists who think they are a law unto themselves.