Government & Politics Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

The apotheosis of the religious right

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Bob Ealum/File Photo

In a week, Alabamans will go to the polls and, indications are, make Roy Moore the odds-on favorite to become their next U.S. senator. Somewhere, and I won’t say where, Jerry Falwell, Sr. is smiling.

Moore achieved national notoriety in 2002, when as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court he placed a 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building. The following year he was removed from office for refusing to obey a federal court order to have the monument removed as a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

At the time, Falwell, Sr. praised Moore for acting like Martin Luther King, Jr. “You know,” he fibbed, “I supported Martin Luther King, Jr., who did practice civil disobedience.” (In “Ministers and Marches,” a widely distributed sermon he gave in 1965, Falwell famously declared, “I do question the sincerity and nonviolent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”)

In 2012, Moore, having become a celebrity in evangelical circles, flirted with running for president but settled for getting himself elected to his old position of chief justice. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex marriage decision, he instructed lower court judges not to issue any marriage license contrary to Alabama marriage anti-same-sex law.

This act of judicial defiance, so reminiscent of white Southern resistance to civil rights laws, earned Moore less in the way of national support than the Ten Commandments. Moreover, Falwell, Sr. had by then gone to his just desserts.

Found to have violated the state’s canon of judicial ethics and suspended from office, Moore got out of Dodge just ahead of the sheriff in April, announcing his run for U.S. Senate in tandem with tendering his resignation.

In last month’s Republican primary, he won a plurality over former state attorney general Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat. Next week’s runoff is no guarantee of a general election victory, but in deep red Alabama, it comes close.

It should come as no surprise that, according to the latest poll numbers, evangelicals are supporting Moore over Strange by 21 points, 55 percent to 34 percent. Non-evangelicals, swinging the other way, back Strange by 20 points, 52 percent to 32 percent. Because white evangelicals are the largest religious grouping in Alabama by far, and are overwhelmingly Republican, this yields an eight-point edge for Moore, 50 percent to 42 percent.

The rock-throwing right, from Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee to Steve Bannon & Co. is backing Moore. President Trump, apparently yielding to the importunities of the Republican establishment, is a Strange bedfellow.

He’ll be holding a campaign rally for Strange in Huntsville on Friday, and if he turns the electoral tide, he’ll have Mitch McConnell wrapped around his little finger for a while longer. But as much as white evangelicals love Trump, I wouldn’t bet on it.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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