Supporters of the Alabama judge who defied a federal order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building filed suit on Monday to try to keep the granite block where it is.
The two-tonne monument, installed two years ago in the middle of the night by Chief Justice Roy Moore, remains in the rotunda of the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama's capital. But state officials are expected to move it this week.
The suit, filed in US District Court in Mobile, Alabama, by state residents Kelly McGinley and Pastor Richard Dorley, seeks an injunction against the state's eight associate justices, who issued an order last week that the monument be moved.
"The plaintiffs believe that any attempt to remove the Ten Commandments monument is an affront to their religious freedom and an attack on their Christian beliefs," the complaint states. It describes McGinley and Dorley as holding firm in the belief "that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all."
A hearing has been scheduled for today before US District Judge William Steele on the request for an injunction, the clerk of Mobile's federal court said.
"We consider this is a victory because the court was under no compulsion to hear this," said Brian Chavez-Ochoa, lawyer for the two plaintiffs.
Moore was suspended last Friday after ignoring an order by US District Judge Myron Thompson to remove the monument by Aug. 20.
The chief justice, who regards the Commandments as a symbol of the Judeo-Christian foundation of US law, told a news conference he would mount a vigorous defense against misconduct allegations that led to his suspension.
This case "is not about a monument, it's not about religion," Moore said. "It's about the acknowledgment of Almighty God."
On Monday, hundreds of Moore supporters continued prayer vigils outside the state judicial building. Speakers called for a boycott of any company that helps to move the monument.
A handful of people staged a counterprotest across the street from Moore's supporters. Larry Darby, state director of American Atheists, accused the associate justices and state Attorney General Bill Pryor of taking too long to move the display.