The victory of Roy Moore in the Alabama Republican Senate primary last week has been forgotten in the general madness of the 2017 news cycle. Yet Moore’s candidacy is a remarkable and troubling sign of the times.
The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore is known for being a hardcore Christian soldier in the culture wars. In 2003, he was stripped of his position as chief justice by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for defying a federal court’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he had installed at the Alabama Judicial Building. In 2013, he was elected chief justice again; three years later, he was suspended for directing probate judges to enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in defiance of the Supreme Court.
Moore is known for virulent anti-gay rhetoric. In a 2002 concurring opinion in a child custody case involving a lesbian mother, he referred to homosexuality as a “criminal lifestyle” that the state must use its power to curb, and “an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.”
Muslims are another frequent target of Moore’s ire. In a 2006 column, he wrote that Keith Ellison, the Democratic congressman from Minnesota, should have been disqualified from office by his Muslim faith.
While Moore is obsessed with the idea that Muslims are imposing sharia law in parts of the United States, his views come disturbingly close to a Christian version of sharia.
The “Christian sharia” label has often been gratuitously slung at all Christian conservatives; but in Moore’s case, it seems to fit, since he unabashedly argues that all law in America must be rooted in the Bible and “the sovereignty of the Christian God.” While he has also said religious freedom is a Christian concept, his rhetoric reduces non-Christians to second-class citizens in a Christian state.
Now, Moore has won the Republican contest for the Senate seat left open when Jeff Sessions became attorney general, beating incumbent Luther Strange, who had been appointed to fill the post temporarily.
While Moore is the latest champion of the right-wing populist revolt against the Republican establishment, he also represents an ascendant radicalism among religious conservatives who feel sidelined by liberal culture. In a remarkable column for the Canadian magazine The Week, Matthew Walther, a contributor to major conservative and religious publications, asserted that Moore’s outspoken defense of Christian faith over human law represents “the only way forward for social conservatives in this country.”
Essentially, Walther’s case for Moore is that progressives don’t respect the Constitution or political fair play, and neither should conservatives if they want to win. Even if his criticism of progressives is accurate, it’s a dangerous argument that can only lead to escalating political warfare.
Walther cheers Moore’s willingness to place loyalty to God over allegiance to the United States of America; but he doesn’t mention that Moore’s religious crusade has led him into anti-American rhetoric. In August, commenting on Ronald Reagan’s Cold War-era statement that Soviet Russia was the “focus of evil in the modern world,” he suggested the same could be said of America today (“we promote a lot of bad things” such as homosexuality). He has also said the Sept. 11 terror attacks may have been punishment for having “distanced ourselves” from God.
The path Moore represents is a conservatism that rejects American ideals, and a further unraveling of American public life. Those who wish to avoid that path should hope — regardless of party affiliation — that Democrat Doug Jones can prevail in Alabama’s general election.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.