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Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, Donald Sterling, and Holding Them to Account

Scott Kaufman has a great piece at Raw Story on Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore: a speech to the Pastors For Life Luncheon where he tries to claim that Christianity has a privileged place in American jurisprudence that has been lost and shoved aside. The speech was made back in January, but only now — as video emerges — is it getting wider circulation. Says Kaufman:

Speaking at the Pastor for Life Luncheon, which was sponsored by Pro-Life Mississippi, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court declared that the First Amendment only applies to Christians because “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures” who created us.

“They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship,” he continued. “Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”

This is the same judge who became famous for being booted off the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to follow a federal court ruling in a battle over a sculpture of the 10 commandments and was reelected as Chief Justicein 2012. Last February, he wrote to all 50 governors, pushing the idea of a constitutional convention to undo the damage being done to the country by the US Supreme Court, specifically in the area of marriage equality. “The time to act is upon us if we mean to preserve the basic foundations of marriage and family upon which our Country rests,” wrote Moore in the letter that accompanied his proposal to return to the definition of marriage used by the US Supreme Court in the 1800s. Just two weeks ago, Moore was on the losing side in a 7-2 ruling throwing out a birther lawsuit.

You get the idea.

In listening to Moore’s speech, I couldn’t help but think of the disgraced-and-banned-for-life-but-still-the-owner-for-at-least-a-while-longer of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling. Both Moore and Sterling exhibit the same sense of arrogance and entitlement, and the views of both Moore and Sterling were not some secret thing that just emerged. Both Moore and Sterling operate in a sheltered and rarified world — Moore atop the Supreme Court of Alabama, and Sterling amongst the 30 owners of the NBA teams — and seem to think that this insulated world allows them free reign to hold their narrowminded views with little accountability to anyone.

Hearing each of them put his bigotry front and center with no apologies, it’s hard NOT to connect the two.

As the NBA’s drama unfolded over Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling and the audio recordings of his blatant racism, Bill Simmons of Grantland wrote a lengthy piece on Sterling’s history and also how everyone around the Clippers — front office people, players, coaches, and fans like himself — knew that history. As the recording emerged and the outrage grew, shortly before Game 5 of the Clippers playoff series against the Warriors, Simmons looked over at the seats where Sterling usually sat . . .

Sitting in Sterling’s seats at midcourt? Two black guys. This was one of Sterling’s favorite tricks over the years: Anytime he landed in hot water racially, because of a housing discrimination lawsuit, an inappropriate comment or something else, you could count on a minority mysteriously popping up in his seats. Everyone who played for Sterling, worked for Sterling or bought Clippers tickets knew he was slime. We rationalized it in our own ways. Chris Paul pushed his way to the Clippers because he wanted a big market. Blake Griffin passed up free agency because the Clippers offered him an extraordinary amount of money. Doc Rivers abandoned a terrific Celtics organization, and a city that unequivocally loved him, for a chance to turn the Clippers into champions. I bought Clippers season tickets in 2004 because I love going to NBA games. We all knew about Sterling. As Ted DiBiase said, everybody’s got a price.

You always heard stories and whispers about how heinous he was. . . .

Simmons recounts his favorite most outrageous story, as well as a couple that might be runners-up for that award, then picks up again:

And [then-NBA Commissional] David Stern looked the other way for decades, waiting for a smoking gun that never came. He knew Sterling, who started out as an attorney and eventually made his billions in real estate, loved courtrooms more than he loved anything else. Fearing the very real possibility of Sterling becoming the NBA’s Al Davis, Stern never messed with him — not even in 2003, 2006 and 2009, when Sterling kept settling those housing discrimination lawsuits and being tied to offensive quotes. When the NBA briefly owned the New Orleans franchise in 2011, Stern’s office vetoed the team’s trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers. Six days later, Stern rerouted him to the Clippers and immediately turned them into a marquee contender. Shining a gigantic spotlight on their most incompetent owner … I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

At the 2012 Finals, I remember asking a high-ranking league official if the NBA could ever force Sterling out. We can’t do anything, he said. We can’t do ANYTHING. Once you own a team, you’re in. The league couldn’t even jettison George Shinn, the once-disgraced Hornets owner who turned the city of Charlotte against him so completely and totally, it briefly destroyed professional basketball there. Unless Donald Sterling screwed up or dropped dead, he would keep owning the Clippers. And everyone knew it.

Right now, Moore thinks he owns Alabama. But his days of unaccountable living are numbered, as surely as Donald Sterling’s. From inside Moore’s hallowed chambers, that 7-2 vote was a strong slap from his colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court. Inside the state capitol, state officials are receiving pressure from folks like the Council on American-Islamic Relations to repudiate Moore’s remarks about the first amendment:

Given Chief Justice Moore’s apparent belief that the Constitution does not protect all Alabama residents, we call on the governor and state attorney general to repudiate such un-American views and to reaffirm the First Amendment rights of all Alabamans.

This afternoon, on the steps of the state capitol, a rally will be held called “Alabama for Secular Government.” Clete Wetli, chair of the local democratic committee, summed up matters quite nicely at the end of his piece about today’s event:

Our Founding Fathers clearly understood the complex and highly personal nature of faith and the social construct of organized religion and wisely decided that these matters be decided by individuals and not mandated by the government.

The great hypocrisy here is the anguished outcry from “religious right” legislators against Sharia Law; while they work tirelessly to turn Alabama into a theocracy. Perhaps, they ought to focus on bringing jobs to Alabama or ensuring all citizens have access to affordable healthcare.

For real progress in Alabama, they should try preaching that instead.


Just as Sterling was shown the door by his fellow owners, sooner or later the powers that be in Alabama will do the same with Moore. In the NBA, corporate sponsors made it clear that they didn’t want anything to do with the Clippers as long as Sterling was in charge. Players were on the verge of shutting down the playoffs, unless appropriate sanctions were announced. Fans were incensed, and made their views known as well. Adam Silver, the new commissioner, imposed the maximum sanctions he could do on his own, and promised to press the owners to enact the one sanction reserved to them — expelling Sterling from the league. These companies, players, and owners have made it clear that they do not want their league to be further damaged by association with such repellent views.

Moore, like Sterling, thinks he is unaccountable and untouchable. The days are surely coming, though, when Moore will realize that he and his retrograde views can be shown the door after all. I don’t know whether it will come next week, next month, or next year, but make no mistake: that day is surely coming, as surely, as surprisingly, and as suddenly as it came to Donald Sterling.


Photo h/t to elPadawan and used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.