Judge Roy Moore

Alabama getting out of marriage business: Was this a victory for faith, secularism or both?

Alabama getting out of marriage business: Was this a victory for faith, secularism or both?

If you follow America’s battles over religious liberty (no scare quotes), you know that things are getting complicated.

One of the most important stories out there is the search for compromises that protect the rights granted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage and the First Amendment rights of traditional religious believers who affirm centuries of religious doctrines that reject this new teaching by the state.

Yes, that’s a complicated statement. It doesn’t help that America doesn’t do compromises very well, these days. It also doesn’t help that many — some would say “most” — political reporters have zero interest in learning more about these complicated church-state issues. The result, in many cases, are news reports in which it is almost impossible for readers to know what is going on or why some politicos are taking the stance that they are taking.

Case in point is this Alabama Political Reporter story that ran with this headline: “Legislature OKs bill ending marriage licenses.”

This is complicated, so let’s walk through this carefully. The key question: Who opposed this bill and why did they oppose it?

… The Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill that would end the requirement that marriages must be solemnized with some sort of a ceremony and the state will no longer issue licenses giving two people permission to marry. Instead, the state will simply record that a marriage exists.

Senate Bill 69 is sponsored by state Senator Greg Albritton, R-Atmore.

Under Alabama law, marriages can only be between one man and one woman. The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated that centuries-old legal standard in the highly controversial 5-to-4 Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015.

SB69 ends the requirement that there has to be a marriage ceremony. A couple will simply fill out and sign the marriage forms, pay the recording fee, and the probate judge’s office will record that there is a marriage agreement between the two parties.

“All the state needs to do is ensure that a marriage is legally formed,” Albritton told a House Committee last month. “If you want to have a ceremony go to your pastor and have it in whatever form you want to do. This takes marriage out of the state purview.”

So what we have here is a radically simplified contract system that creates a legal union — gay or straight — in the eyes of the state government.

If citizens want a “marriage” rite, they are free to arrange that with the religious or secular professional of their choice. They just need to let the state know, for legal reasons, that this has happened.

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So, how did believers vote in Alabama? Only white evangelicals were tagged in exit polls

So, how did believers vote in Alabama? Only white evangelicals were tagged in exit polls

So, how did the believers vote in Alabama?

Did the much-maligned evangelical Protestants, who’ve been criticized by lots of folks for helping elect President Donald Trump a year ago, vote in similarly large numbers for Judge Moore?

The short answer is yes. Journalists were all over that question.

As for other religious groups (Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants, Jews, etc.), no one seemed to be asking them how they voted, although they do exist in the Deep South. And what about African-American and Latino evangelicals?

Al.com, also known as The Birmingham News, didn’t split up the results as far as I could find. But it did run the full Scripture-laden quote that Moore gave late Tuesday evening:

"We also know God is always in control," Moore said. "One of the problems with this campaign is we've been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We've been in a hole, if you will. It reminds me of a passage in Psalm 40."
Moore then quoted the Scripture.
"'I waited patiently for the Lord' -- and that's what we've got to do," Moore said before resuming, "he climbed to me and heard my cry and brought us up also out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my feet on the rock and established my goings. And put a new song in our mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it and fear it and be moved by that.
"That's what we've got to do is wait on God and let this process play out. The votes are still coming in. We're looking at that."

As it turned out, even the Bible section of that speech was a bit off, as one outspoken evangelical noted:

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Moore church-state wars: Can political reporters cover legal clashes between God and man?

Moore church-state wars: Can political reporters cover legal clashes between God and man?

So, you thought that members of the national political press had problems doing balanced, accurate coverage of wild-man candidate Donald Trump?

Get ready for the Handmaid's Tale 2.0 coverage of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, the controversial (that overused term applies here) former Alabama chief justice. This guy can turn Acela zone reporters into pillars of salt just by standing at a podium and smiling.

Now, I realize that in this day and age many reporters have little or no journalistic incentive to listen to Moore and to try and understand what he is saying, from his point of view and that of his supporters. Frankly, this man makes me nervous, too.

However, I do think there are steps journalists can take in order to provide coverage of his candidacy that escapes the boundaries of Acela zone group-think. With that in mind, here is the thought for the day.

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. ...
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

No, that isn't Moore. That's the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

No, I am not comparing Moore with King. I am also not saying that Moore's understanding of moral, just and, dare I say, even "natural" law is the same as that of King. However, don't be surprised if, during his campaign, Moore reads that Birmingham passage and praises it, big time. Reporters should get ready.

Thus, what I am saying that it might be good to get professional religion writers involved in this story. Thus, what I am saying that it would be good to get professional religion writers involved in this story. Right now. Why? Because arguments about conflicts between God's law and the laws of the state have been going on for centuries (including this famous First Things package in 1996) and this is a topic worthy of serious reporting. It would be good to have a reporter involved who (a) speaks that church-state language, (b) has solid contacts with articulate Moore supporters and (c) knows liberal and conservative church historians who are up to speed on this topic.

The bottom line: It's time to transcend shallow stereotypes.

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His dishonor: Mainstream media keep slanting news reports on ousted Judge Moore

His dishonor: Mainstream media keep slanting news reports on ousted Judge Moore

I've heard of contempt of court, but open contempt for a judge? That’s apparently OK if that judge is Roy Moore.

Like this headline. " 'Not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama': State's chief justice ousted over anti-gay-marriage order," crows The Los Angeles Times. And that's just the most blatant of several tactics in several articles meant to manipulate your view of the case.

Moore, the always controversial chief justice of Alabama, was suspended after telling its probate judges not to issue gay marriage licenses even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized them. That drew fire not only from the usual liberal groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which filed the complaint that launched the probe -- but also their acolytes in mainstream media.

But before dissecting individual specimens, let's take a workmanlike example -- the Associated Press account, run by CBS News:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s defiance of federal court rulings on same-sex marriage violated judicial ethics, a disciplinary court ruled on Friday before suspending him for the rest of his term.
The punishment effectively removes Moore from office without the nine-member Alabama Court of the Judiciary officially ousting him. Given his age, he will not be able to run for chief justice again under state law.
Moore was found to have encouraged probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay couples six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that everyone has a fundamental right to marry in all 50 states.

Not that Moore skirts controversy. He's the same guy who put a stone monument of the Ten Commandments in a court building, then refused to remove it. So the Court of Judiciary -- the same panel involved here -- tossed him out in 2003. Yet he was re-elected years later.

All of that is in the 400-word AP article, but the Los Angeles Times goes further. Right from the lede, you can tell where things are going:

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The Los Angeles Times does a number on Chief Justice Moore of Alabama

The Los Angeles Times does a number on Chief Justice Moore of Alabama

I first met Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore back in 1997 on a drive through Gadsden, a sleepy southern burg 56 miles north of Birmingham. Moore was only a circuit judge back then but he’d already gotten famous for refusing to take down a plaque from his courtroom walls that listed the Ten Commandments. I expected some hayseed country judge; what I found was a very sharp guy who could recite lengthy passages of law by heart and was obviously meant for greater things. Eighteen years later, he’s at the heart of a battle over whether state judges should grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the state constitution forbids it.

The Los Angeles Times recently weighed in on the debate through the eyes of a probate judge caught in the middle of the federal-state tussle. Its take on the situation was so one-sided, it fell over about halfway through. It starts:

About 9 o'clock the night of Feb. 8, Judge Tim Russell felt his phone vibrate, which seemed strange at that hour. It was his work phone.
He and his wife, Sandy, had just finished the long drive from Birmingham, Ala., where they visited family, back home to Baldwin County, on the Gulf of Mexico. While she readied for bed, he stood reading an email from Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court.
In less than 12 hours, Russell and other county judges were to start granting marriage licenses to all couples, whether gay or straight.
Russell finished reading the message and held it out to his wife.
"My God," he said.
Russell lives with one foot in the past and one in the present, and talks as easily about either.
Driving to lunch recently, he casually recalled his maternal grandmother of 13 generations ago, Rebecca Nurse. She was hanged in 1692 for practicing witchcraft, and became a central character in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible."
The modern relevance of that story isn't lost on Russell. "I think a great deal about our freedoms," he said.
Religious freedoms, he said. And also equality under the law.

So here we have the Salem witch trials brought up as a hint of the direction where religious belief can go.

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