James, Moore Should Resign

The duplicity manifested in Judge Roy Moore’s and Governor Fob James’ public statements threatening to defy the lawful order of the courts renders both men unfit to continue serving in their respective offices. They should resign, so that their offices can be filled by officials who abide by their oath to uphold the constitution and follow the law.

Both men stated that they would not follow the law as mandated by the court: Judge Moore refused a court order to remove an engraved wooden display of the Ten Commandments from the wall of his court room and Governor James threatened to deploy the Alabama National Guard to prevent the court order from being carried out.

There are legal ways to challenge and change laws, but people practicing civil disobedience who refuse to obey laws and decrees must be willing accept the penalty for their acts. They must be willing to go to jail. In his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience”(1849) Henry David Thoreau set forth the basic tenets of civil disobedience. The individual, Thoreau claimed, is “a higher and independent power” from which the state obtains its power. The operative word is individual: Judge Moore and Governor James are not individuals; they are officers of the State of Alabama. Men who decided, after being elected, to follow the footsteps of George Wallace along the politically popular path of intolerance, rather than uphold the law as they were elected to do.

I have tried to seed this column with words that bitter the popular flavor of intolerance without tainting the sweetness of free religious expression. I did not write about millions of Germans who remained silent while a popular leader lead their nation down a horrific path of intolerance. I decided against writing about the fractured lives sacrificed upon the alter of religious intolerance in Northern Ireland. I could have written about the perpetual conflict between the Jews and Arabs or countless other deadly conflicts rising out of religious intolerance when combined with the coercive power of the state. Instead I want to leave readers with these words of Clark Foreman, about another type of intolerance that occurred in our nation.

In her book, “Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era” (1997), Patricia Sullivan relates young Clark Foreman’s account of the February 1921 lynching of a black man, John Lee Eberhardt. This took place in Athens, one of the most enlightened communities in Georgia at the time. Then a University of Georgia student, Clark witnessed a mob of 3,000 of these ordinary people participate in one of the thousands of lynchings that took place in our nation. This incident so disturbed Clark that he wrote a letter to his parents describing the day’s events. Warning: the following excerpts from Clark Forman’s letter contain graphic descriptions of horrific acts perpetrated by a mob.

“The crowd of about three thousand people gathered around the tree in a large circle. A leader made a speech forbidding any shooting on account of the danger of onlookers. Strict order was preserved. Everyone was made to sit down, so that the ones behind them might see with ease the ghastly spectacle that was about to take place. A fire was built about the Negro’s feet and lit. Neither gasoline or kerosene was used, in order that the job might not be done too fast. The family was brought to the center of the ring so that the Negro might have one more chance to confess. He pleaded to God to testify his innocence. More wood was thrown on the fire. The Negro yelled for mercy.”

“The fire leaps up and seems to burn him too fast. Some hardened onlooker smolders it so that the Negro might suffer longer. He tries to choke himself, his hands tied behind him. Finally with a monster effort he bends over far enough to swallow some flame. He dies amid the jeers of the crowd.”

I thought about Clark Foreman’s letter a few weeks ago while walking among the thousands of supporters of Judge Moore’s open defiance of the law. I pondered, “Are these folks here with signs manifesting their support for the Ten Commandments or celebrating Judge Moore’s defiance of the law? If he resigned his judgeship and became Mr. Moore how many would show up at a rally?” Not many I thought, and that frightened me. It frightens me because thousands of ordinary Alabama citizens are willing set aside the law for the politically popular idea of a defiant judge displaying the Ten Commandments in an Alabama court room. As long as Governor James remains in office, one can only wonder: what portion of the constitution will he nullify next for a politically popular idea?

______________________

Originally Published: 30 April 1997, Montgomery Advertiser.

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