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Supreme Court Snubs Alabama Governor's States' Rights Plea.

Alabama Gov. Forrest "Fob" James thinks state governments, not the U.S. Supreme Court, should have the final say on church-state matters. The Supreme Court, however, disagrees.

Without comment June 22, the justices declined to act on an extraordinary plea James filed with the court, arguing that the Constitution allows "the people in each state to make their own laws on issues of religious freedom."

Upset about high court decisions requiring church-state separation in the public schools, James charged in a May 1 filing that the justices have overstepped their bounds.

"It is undoubtedly true," observed the James brief, "that the people of this country have the constitutional fight, if they so choose, to march forthrightly into hell; but they should not be taken there, blindfolded and against their will by the United States Supreme Court."

James' filing with the justices was sparked by a federal district court decision against school-sanctioned prayer and other religious practices in the Alabama public schools. The Chandler v. James lawsuit was brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Alabama affiliate of the ACLU. (The case is currently pending before the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.)

Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, "Gov. James' appeal to the Supreme Court never had a prayer. It was so bizarre the justices brushed it aside in near record time. The Bill of Rights applies to all levels of government, including the governor's office in Alabama."

Although James has few friends on the high court, he does have admirers in other venues: for example, the Militia of Montana.

The Associated Press reported in May that James' name appeared on a lengthy article in the Feb. 26 issue of The Big Sky Patriot, published in Billings by the Militia of Montana.

The Militia of Montana sits on the fringe of the far right. The organization's newsletter routinely gives credence to conspiracy theories and has printed pieces alleging that government officials were involved in the April 19, 1995, bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

The Big Sky Patriot article by James summarized many of his arguments in favor of school-sponsored religious activity and his view that states are not required to abide by the Bill of Rights.

James said he has never heard of the publication. His spokesman, Bob Gambacurta, said the article was a condensed version of information routinely sent out from the governor's office.

"We're not linked to this group in any way, other than someone they correspond with apparently sent them a copy of the governor's statement," said Gambacurta.

James' unusual views have apparently hurt him politically in Alabama. On June 2 he failed to garner more than 50 percent in the Republican primary and was forced into a runoff with Winton Blount III, a conservative GOP businessman. Blount argued it is time for Alabama residents to stop electing governors who "continually embarrass us."

Blount backed up his criticism by mentioning an incident a few years ago when James mocked the theory of evolution at a state school board meeting by strolling across the stage with his shoulders hunched and arms dangling low like a monkey.

James, who is being advised in his campaign by Christian Coalition board member Ralph Reed, replied by taking a potshot at Blount's physical appearance. "Well," he said, "I'm a monkey that's in good shape. I'm not a fat monkey." James' wife, Bobble, joined in the name-calling, telling reporters that Blount is "a big, fat sissy."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1U6AL
Date:Jul 1, 1998
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