Although the nine-judge panel charged with trying Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore did not achieve the unanimous ruling required to remove him from office, it suspended him without pay for the remainder of his term in what Moore's attorney, Mat Staver, called a violation of state law.
"To suspend Chief Justice Moore for the rest of his term is the same as removal," Staver, founder and chairman of the nonprofit legal group Liberty Counsel, said in a news release. The Court of the Judiciary (COJ), which was charged with trying Moore, "lacked the unanimous votes to remove the chief, so the majority instead chose to ignore the law and the rules."
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, the Alabama Baptist Convention's public policy auxiliary, told Baptist Press the ruling seems to reflect "forces at work that seek to silence [Christians'] freedom of speech and religious liberties."
The vote to remove Moore from office allegedly was 6-3, according to a report relayed by Godfrey from the Alabama Citizens Action Program's attorney.
In its Sept. 30 ruling, the COJ stated there is "clear and convincing" evidence Moore was "completely disregarding" a federal court injunction when he told Alabama's 68 probate judges in a Jan. 6 memo they had "a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage licenses contrary to" the state's ban on same-sex marriage until the Alabama Supreme Court clarified the relationship between state law and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
The COJ's ruling was handed down two days after a trial in Montgomery that drew spectators from as far away as Illinois and Missouri.
At his trial, Moore argued his Jan. 6 memo was merely a status update and did not defy any federal court order. The COJ's 50-page ruling, however, stated Moore's claim was not "credible."
Moore's memo, the COJ stated, "can be reasonably read as requiring defiance of the United States Supreme Court and the district court" that required probate judges to grant licenses to same-sex couples.
The COJ acknowledged it did not achieve the unanimous concurrence required to remove Moore from office and said the decision to suspend him without pay was unanimous.
Staver said Moore will appeal the decision to the Alabama Supreme Court, noting, "This case is far from over."
"Today's decision by the COJ to suspend the chief for the rest of his term throws the rule of law out the window. This system must be changed," Staver said. "... What this decision tells us today is that Montgomery has a long way to go to weed out abuse of political power and restore the rule of law."
Godfrey said Moore "represents a lot more people than just himself," noting the large number of Christians who share the chief justice's views on marriage and sexuality.
The opposition to Moore appears to be part of a concerted effort "to intimidate and silence Christians in the long run," Godfrey said.
Had Moore been removed from office, it would have been his second removal as chief justice in 13 years. In 2003 the COJ removed him from office for defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments display from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was elected to the office again in 2012.
His term will expire in 2019. The New York Times reported speculation that Moore may run for governor or Alabama attorney general.
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP (bpnews.net) reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.