In "Braveheart," when evil men slit the throat of William Wallace's wife, it's clearly time to fight. In "The Lord of the Rings," when orcs attack Gondor and Rohan, it's clearly time to fight. But when federal courts overreach, we need to see whether war is required, or whether decisions provide an opening.
Americans during the past few months have disagreed about the wisdom of Judge Roy Moore's placing of a Ten Commandments monument in a manner that virtually assured rejection by federal courts. His critics say he was cruising for a bruising, but his defenders say he was standing for what is right in saying NO to an out-of-control federal judiciary. The defenders say it really did not matter what he said, since federal judges are imperialistic.
Was the war of angry words surrounding the Montgomery, Ala., monument necessary? The record is mixed. Federal courts have approved Ten Commandments displays on government property in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah, ruling that the Decalogue has played a significant role in American history. But Moore supporters could certainly cite a recent Kentucky case in which Sixth Circuit Court judges dinged as unconstitutional Ten Commandments displays in two county courthouses and a school.
That ruling came after officials trying to meet court guidelines had added other historical documents to the commandments display and set up a public forum where citizens could post the historical documents of their choice. Even that wasn't enough. On the face of it, that ruling would support the view that the feds are out-of-control -- and yet, the court panel's majority opinion included not just rejection but challenge. Judge Eric Clay wrote (wrongly, in my opinion) that merely posting the Ten Commandments fulfilled no "educational function," but he went on to opine that the outcome of the case may have been different had the Ten Commandments been "integrated into the school curriculum."
The judge also alluded to previous U.S. Supreme Court musings that the Ten Commandments have a place "in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics. ..." He suggested that the court could look favorably on a display if the Ten Commandments were incorporated into a comparative religion course or a course on how the Founders' religious beliefs affected late 18th century history and the structure of the U.S. government.