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Monday, March 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
'Ten Commandments Judge' spreads the word in Northwest
By David Postman
PORTLAND Maryland lawyer Michael Peroutka appeared before the Oregon Constitution Party on Saturday as the conservative Christian party's announced candidate for president.
He said he'd fight activist judges, immigration and gay marriage and put God back in public life.
Anyone who got close enough to Peroutka saw a small pin of the Ten Commandments on his lapel. Appropriate for a party with a goal of "One Nation Under God," it was also a reminder of whom the crowd of about 500 had come to see.
The real star was Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who was forced from his job for refusing to remove from the courthouse a massive, granite Ten Commandments.
The case has made Moore famous as the "Ten Commandments Judge," the man most associated with the tablets, perhaps, since Charlton Heston carried them across the big screen. With that have come pleas from Constitution Party members and others that he run for president.
Moore has a speaking tour that takes him around the country to events such as Saturday's "Profiles in Courage" banquet, where he was honored along with a 98-year-old man who holds a daily anti-abortion vigil outside a local women's clinic.
Moore commands $10,000 per appearance, which he waived this weekend, controls a foundation raising money for his appeals and is so popular among conservatives that the crowd was warned not to swarm him for autographs.
"I'm waking up something in people," Moore said in an interview. "When you speak the truth, people will flock to it."
The presidential-campaign talk began the instant Moore was removed from the bench, when supporters in the Montgomery courthouse began chanting, "Roy Moore for president."
The talk is an echo from the right of what consumer activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader says from the left: People should vote their conscience and principles and not choose the lesser of two evils. The major parties are too much alike.
"I think the people need a choice."
Moore won't consider running for anything until his appeals are exhausted.
But he has the trappings of a candidacy, including a following and a stump speech. Saturday night, ushers with red, white and blue buckets collected donations as the emcee assured people. "We're not keeping any of it. It's all going to the judge," he said. So does the $50 it cost to have a photo taken with Moore.
As a lower-court judge, Moore was sued over the Ten Commandments plaque he hung on his courtroom wall. In 2000, he was overwhelmingly elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
He had a 5,280-pound monument to the commandments installed in the rotunda of the state courts building and was sued for violating the separation of church and state.
He lost his job when a special ethics panel ruled against him in November for defying a court order to remove the monument. At his trial, the presiding judge said Moore should be removed in part because he had not shown contrition.
"I didn't then, and I do not now," he said Saturday to a rousing standing ovation.
Moore takes the stage after a video outlines his case with stirring music, huge undulating American flags and clips of Moore and his supporters in Alabama.
He quotes the nation's founders at great length, tells of Alice in Wonderland having a conversation with Humpty Dumpty and mixes in some jokes seemingly as old as the Gospels. ("A priest, a judge and a Boy Scout are on an airplane ... ").
Throughout, Moore defines his case narrowly.
"This case is not about the Ten Commandments," he says. "It's not about a stolen monument. Its not about religion. It's certainly not about a man named Roy Moore.
"The issue in this case is about the acknowledgement of that God upon which this nation and our laws are founded."
He tells of being asked by the Alabama attorney general if he were returned to his job, would he continue to acknowledge God in his official duties. His response: Not only would he, but he felt it was an obligation.
The attorney general, William Pryor Jr., was once a supporter of Moore's and last month was appointed by President Bush to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appointment was criticized by Democrats who said Pryor's conservative beliefs put him out of the mainstream. But Moore said Pryor is "posing as a conservative, Christian judge."
That was enough for the Constitution Party to win at least one new recruit Saturday night.
"When he talked about the guy that was questioning him, Bill Pryor, that did it," said Terri Hopkins, co-owner of a Portland ball-bearing company and a registered Republican with a photo of Bush on her wall.
"I think what's missing in a lot of people's lives is following what their absolute conscience says," she said. "He's not swayed by anything other than what he believes in. He's not swayed by public opinion."
Hopkins said she'd vote for Moore for president if he ran.
Not Jason Meshell. Meshell, a software-sales manager, is running for Congress in Oregon's 1st Congressional District. He was introduced Saturday night as a "platform Republican," a party member who follows the party planks that are generally more conservative than its candidates.
He admires Moore but is sticking with the GOP, to "fight for what I feel is the last mainstream party where a conservative can have a voice." He said he'll vote for Bush.
In 2000, Constitution Party founder Howard Phillips was the party's presidential candidate. His best showings were 1 percent finishes in Connecticut, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Moore is better-known than Phillips. If the presidential election is as close as it was four years ago, a well-known conservative could pull votes from Bush, just as Nader is often said to have pulled from Gore four years ago.
Moore has run for office as a Democrat and a Republican. He's not a member of the Constitution Party, though he said he's a good fit.
He sounds like Nader when he says voters should not worry about playing the role of spoiler.
"I think they should vote principle, and when the parties or candidates violate the principles, people shouldn't vote for them," he said. "It's probably more dangerous to have a friend at your back then an enemy at your front."
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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