A federal judge gave Alabama's chief justice a Jan. 3 deadline to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, but suggested the order may be put on hold during an appeal.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson set the deadline after Justice Roy Moore testified at a hearing Thursday that removing the granite monument would violate his oath of office.
The state laws he swore to uphold are based partly on Judeo-Christian values, Moore testified, and Thompson's order "basically says that I cannot recognize the source of our system of justice."
Richard Cohen, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Moore's argument conflicts with the constitutional provision for separation of church and state.
"The chief justice's remarks were bizarre and disheartening. They're at variance with federal law," Cohen said after the hearing. "This is the chief judicial officer of the state of Alabama."
Moore, a conservative Christian who campaigned as the "Ten Commandments
Judge," moved the 5,280-pound monument into the judicial building rotunda in the middle of the night in July 2001.
Last month, Thompson ruled that the monument improperly promotes religion in a government building, and he gave Moore until Wednesday to remove it, but Moore didn't comply.
After issuing the new deadline, Thompson said he would decide next week whether the monument should be removed pending the outcome of appeals.