MONTGOMERY, Ala., Nov. 13 — A special court today ordered the removal of Alabama's suspended chief justice, Roy S. Moore, after unanimously finding that he had committed ethical breaches in a dispute over church, state and the Ten Commandments that gained national attention.
The presiding judge of the special court, William Thompson, said the court had no choice because "the chief justice placed himself above the law" by defying a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state Supreme Court building.
Moreover, Judge Thompson said, "the chief justice showed no signs of contrition for his actions."
Indeed, just minutes later outside the courthouse, Mr. Moore declared that all he was guilty of was acknowledging God — "the source of our law and our liberty."
"I've been found guilty by a code of ethics that is established on the acknowledgment of God as its source," Mr. Moore said, adding that he would consult with his lawyer on his next step.
The announcement of the nine-member special court's decision, which was televised nationally, followed a one-day trial on Wednesday.
Mr. Moore testified that in his view he had done nothing wrong by flouting a federal court order to remove a 5,280-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the lobby of the State Supreme Court in 2001.
"I'd do it all the same all over again," Mr. Moore said on Wednesday. "I said it back then and I'll say it again now. God is the basis of our law and our government. I cannot and will not violate my conscience."
Mr. Moore, who was suspended from office in August, was charged with six separate ethical breaches stemming from his adamant refusals to remove the monument despite a federal court order to do so.
The state's attorney general, William Pryor Jr., a conservative who has been nominated by President Bush for an appellate judgeship, led the attack on Wednesday, saying that "the chief justice had put himself above the law."
"This case presents an all-or-nothing proposition," said Mr. Pryor, who early in the dispute had backed Mr. Moore. "Either the chief justice is wrong and must be removed, or the chief justice is right and must be reinstated."
"What does it mean to have the rule of laws and not of men?" Mr. Pryor asked. "That is the fundamental question."
Once again, the Ten Commandments controversy drew a huge crowd, creating a spectacle in downtown Montgomery reminiscent of the revival-like protests that lasted two weeks this summer.
Shortly after sunrise Wednesday, several dozen of Mr. Moore's supporters bowed their heads and held a prayer circle on the courthouse steps. Young men blew curled rams' horns as a call to arms. Two women wore black veils, they said, "to mourn the death of America." One burly man named Matt strutted up the courthouse steps dressed in a green army helmet and flak jacket "to wage war for God."
Despite Mr. Moore's loss of his job, his popularity seems to be only growing.
On Wednesday, as the proceedings began inside the same courtroom where Mr. Moore once banged the gavel as chief justice, a long gold bus circled downtown Montgomery with a banner on the side: "Alabama Save the Commandments Tour."
Donations for his legal defense have been flowing in, enough to afford him three well-known lawyers, including one who was recently an Alabama Supreme Court justice.
On Aug. 22, Mr. Moore was suspended as chief justice with pay pending the outcome of this trial by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. He was accused of failing to comply with the law and bringing "the judicial office into disrepute." Removal required a unanimous vote of the nine-member court.
The court is a mix of judges, lawyers and lay people, both Democrat and Republican, with more than half holding elected office. Many analysts had said because of that, and Mr. Moore's popularity in Alabama, it was unlikely that he would be removed.
"He strikes a chord with the masses and it would be a huge risk for someone to be remembered as the one who voted against the Ten Commandments judge," said William Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Alabama.
And history also seemed to be on the Mr. Moore's side. In the judicial court's 30-year history, only three judges before him had been removed. The court does not have the power to keep a judge off the bench permanently. The last Alabama judge was ousted in 1999 after he was found guilty of financial fraud. The next year, he was re-elected to the same seat.
The thrust of Mr. Moore's defense was that the federal order ruling that the display of the monument violated the separation of church and state was unlawful. Mr. Moore has said the monument, inscribed with the biblical commandments and etched with wise words from the nation's founding fathers, all referring to God, is a way to honor the biblical underpinning of America's laws.
This month, the last of Mr. Moore's legal options ran out when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Mr. Moore's colleagues had already decided to store the slab of granite in a storage room on the first floor of the courthouse.
The climax of Wednesday's proceedings came when Mr. Pryor stepped into the center of the courtroom to cross-examine Mr. Moore.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Chief Justice," Mr. Pryor began.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Attorney General," Mr. Moore replied.
Both cracked a smile. The two had once been allies. Mr. Pryor spoke at Ten Commandments rallies and supplied lawyers from his office to help in Mr. Moore's defense. But after federal courts ruled against the chief justice, Mr. Pryor, whose judicial nomination remains one of the most controversial in Washington, switched sides and demanded the monument be moved.
Mr. Pryor asked Mr. Moore, "If you resume your job, will you continue to acknowledge God, no matter what the other judges say?"
"Yes," Mr. Moore replied.
Short of removal from office, the judicial court also had the power to censure or suspend him, actions that would have taken only six of the nine votes.