Maya Angelou famously wrote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Until I recently re-read the newspaper article about my meeting with Judge Moore, I did not remember the exact words that were spoken, nor the exact month or day on which the meeting happened. But I will never forget the hate and anger that assaulted me that day. The heat of a temper so hot with “righteous indignation” against me that I never experienced anything like it before or after. All because of the 10 Commandments…
In March of 1998, Judge Roy Moore of Alabama was leading an effort to place the tablets of the 10 Commandments on public courthouse property all over the United States. For some reason, his group decided that Green Bay, Wisc. was the perfect place to begin. As the sole rabbi in Green Bay, I needed to think carefully about my response to this effort.
There was, I felt, nothing wrong with putting the 10 Commandments on public property provided that every other religious group or sect have the exact same ability to do so as well. There had already been interest from several other groups including the adherents of Asatru, based on Norse mythology, the Satanists, a variety of Christian groups, etc. I believed that the government, because of the First Amendment, could not endorse or prefer one theological tradition over the others. By allowing any group to place a monument, the county would simply be providing equal access and not making a preference.
“But I will never forget Roy Moore, sitting and eating quietly while the hate and prejudice he inspired tore at my soul.”
Judge Moore’s group vehemently opposed this idea. They declared that the United States is a “Christian nation” and that the only monument would be the 10 Commandments, using the translation from the King James Bible.
It was then that the local advocates for the 10 Commandments monument invited me to meet Judge Moore. He was in Green Bay to speak at a local church and would be having lunch at a hotel restaurant afterward. I was invited to meet him along with members of the County Board and the County Executive.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I was taken by some of the local advocates to meet the judge. He shook my hand and went back to eating his lunch. Before I could find a place to sit, Dean Young, Judge Moore’s Executive Director, confronted me. He asked why I was there and said that I needed to leave because the “forces of light can’t mix with the forces of darkness.” He proclaimed his utter disrespect for me as a member of the clergy and that I was one of the leaders of the “forces of darkness.” He then went on an anti-homosexual tirade. During the yelling and abuse, Judge Moore placidly ate his lunch and made no move to stop his surrogate. I hastily left the gathering, followed by the advocate who had invited us in the first place, apologizing profusely.
The local newspaper got the story (not from me) and it was one of the factors that led to the end of Moore’s group’s efforts in Green Bay.
In the last 20 years, we have all moved on from that event. I retired from the pulpit in 2015 and moved to Michigan to be close to family. Judge Moore has been Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice and removed twice. Moore probably does not even remember the incident.
But I will never forget Roy Moore, sitting and eating quietly while the hate and prejudice he inspired tore at my soul.
Rabbi Dr. Sidney Vineburg is an adjunct professor of education at Grand Canyon University and the author of “The Prayers of David” published by the Museum of the Bible/Worthy Press. He lives in Oak Park.