The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission against Covington County Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan of Andalusia, said Olivia Turner, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. The complaint said McKathan violated ethics rules and the U.S. Constitution by ordering the group to pray.
Four years ago, McKathan donned the Ten Commandments robe, he said, to publicly acknowledge his belief that the law is based on more than just words written in law books.
The ACLU complaint said McKathan dropped to his knees and prayed aloud during a court hearing in February. He told the 100 people in the courtroom that he was not afraid to call on the name of Jesus Christ, witnesses said, and ordered all to join hands and pray, according to the complaint filed soon after the hearing.
The hearing was for a case in which the pastor and several deacons of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Monroeville, Alabama, sued the church’s former secretary to gain possession of financial records.
Ordered to pray? Ordered to pray?
One wonders what would have happened if someone had refused? Would the judge have held them in contempt of court? In contempt of God? (Can you imagine being fined, or hauled off to jail for refusing to pay a fine, because you refused an order to pray? I mean, what are the legal consequences for refusing or ignoring an order given by a judge, in his own courtroom? My sense is that judges are used to being obeyed and don’t take kindly to not being obeyed.)
I wonder, because I would almost certainly refuse such an order. And — as a gay man and a non-Christian — I’d be concerned about my chances of obtaining justice in a courtroom that I had to walk past a monument of the Ten Commandments just to get in, let alone in front of a judge who wears the Ten Commandments on his chest.
And there’s precedent for that. If McKathan believes that “the law is based on more than just words written law books” (I’m reminded of seeing Jimmy Swaggart on television once, waving a Bible over his head and shouting “Don’t tell me about the constitution of the United States. This is the constitution of the United States), then I can only guess what book it does think the law is based on.
I can’t find a case where McKathan has made a ruling that affected same-sex couples, but he is cut form the same cloth as Judge Roy Moore (the other “Ten Commandments Judge”), and Roy Moore did bring his faith into the courtroom and used it as the basis for a decision to justify denying a lesbian mother custody of her children.
In 2002-FEB, Moore wrote a separate concurring opinion in a case before the Alabama Supreme Court in which he blasted homosexuality on religious as well as legal grounds. The case involved a lesbian who sought custody of her three minor children. The court unanimously rejected her case. Moore wrote that homosexuality is “a sin [that] violates both natural and revealed law.” He cited verses from the books of Genesis and Leviticus in the Bible. He called homosexuality “an evil disfavored under the law,” “an inherent evil,” a “detestable and an abominable sin,” and “an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.” He suggested that the death penalty is an appropriate response to homosexual behavior. He wrote: “The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.” Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, responded: “It appears that Justice Moore is once again making his decisions on the basis of his personal religious beliefs, not the commands of the law,. Justice Moore would make a great official of the Inquisition, but he doesn’t belong on a state supreme court. I don’t know what to expect next from Moore. Perhaps a witch burning?” 2
If judges are to bring their faith into the courtroom, how can they not bring it into their rulings and decisions? And how can any non-believer have any confidence in their ability to obtain justice.