MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Demonstrators kept vigil Saturday outside the Alabama Judicial Building, singing, preaching and praying for a way to prevent removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the building’s rotunda.

After losing court battles at all levels and the suspension Friday of the monument’s champion, Chief Justice Roy Moore, protest leaders concede the 5,300-pound marker will most likely be removed. State officials have not signaled when, where or how they will move it.

Although Moore’s supporters have said they will try to prevent removal of the monument, his attorneys have told the federal judge that ordered it removed that Moore himself will not interfere.

Protest organizer Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition showed fellow demonstrators Saturday how they might block the doors to the building by kneeling and locking hands.

Mahoney said his group will file a federal lawsuit Monday in Mobile, claiming that Alabama’s associate justices violated the First Amendment when they ordered the building manager to obey the federal order to move the monument.

“We will argue that the First Amendment was written to protect religious expression – not to crush it,” Mahoney said.

A spokesman said Friday that Moore still intends to formally appeal the federal removal order to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, who backed the decision of the associate justices, was unavailable for comment Saturday, said his spokeswoman Suzanne Webb.

Ayesha Khan, an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the groups that sued to remove the monument, called the proposed lawsuit by protesters “grandstanding.”

“They have to know it has no chance of success. It seeks to make a mockery of the Constitution,” she said.

Moore had the monument moved into the building two years ago, saying the commandments were the moral foundation of American law. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled last year that the commandments are an unconstitutional promotion of religion by government.

A federal appeals court upheld that decision last year and Thompson ordered it removed, either out of the building or to a private space in the building, by Aug. 20. Moore did not remove the monuments by the deadline and the state Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended the chief justice with pay pending a trial-like hearing before the Court of the Judiciary.

The size of the crowd gathered outside the entrance to the judicial building varied throughout the day Saturday, but at most times there were about 100 people of all ages scattered across the concrete plaza in front of the building.

Some read Bibles or sat in lawn chairs and talked quietly with new friends. But there were also street preachers who would jump up on block walls surrounding the plaza to deliver fiery sermons.

AP-ES-08-23-03 1915EDT



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