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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
US judge defends 'holy rock'
By Jane Little
BBC religious affairs correspondent

The slab of granite inscribed with the Ten Commandments which is currently installed in Alabama's Supreme Court
'Roy's Rock' was installed under the cover of night
A long-running and fiercely contested battle over a large block of stone has intensified in the United States.

The chief justice of the state of Alabama has defied a federal court order to remove a huge slab of granite inscribed with the Ten Commandments from his courthouse, and vowed to call on the Supreme Court on Friday to prevent the order being enforced.

Opponents of Roy Moore have accused him of tearing down the constitutional wall that separates church and state.

It is nicknamed "Roy's Holy Rock" and at 2,500 kilograms it dominates the rotunda of the state judicial building.

$5,000 fine

It has stood there since it was wheeled in under the cover of night last year.

Mr Moore is a conservative Baptist who was elected to office in this God-fearing state based on a campaign pledge to install "the law God gave to Moses" in his courthouse.

For him it is a statement of the Christian roots of the law. He argues that the separation of Church and State - a key plank of the US constitution - would not exist if God had not ordained it.

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore
I have no intention of removing the monument
Roy Moore

But that argument did not persuade a federal court judge who ruled last year that the religious monument crosses the line "between the permissible and the impermissible".

Mr Moore has defied the order to remove it just days ahead of the deadline. He now faces fines of up to $5,000 a day, but he has vowed to fight on and take it to the Supreme Court.

The battle has brought together civil rights groups and the lobby group, Atheists Awareness, which has condemned what it calls the "courthouse comedy".

It says the supreme law is the constitution, not what it calls a "book of mythology".

The line between Church and State is a fine one in America and it is forever being tested.

In Pennsylvania this week a federal appeals court allowed a decades-old plaque of the Ten Commandments to remain on the facade of a courthouse.

It is deemed to be a matter of historic preservation rather than religion.

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