“Damn Atheists!” sputtered Buford as he threw down the morning paper. “I hope they all end up in hell!” Buford and Sara Hollingsworth lived about ten miles outside of Montgomery, Alabama in a three-bedroom rancher. They had lived there since Buford retired from the factory three years ago. When their son and daughter had moved out a number of years ago there was no longer any need to stay in their 4-bedroom colonial on Magnolia Street in Montgomery, itself. Their life in retirement had been mostly pleasant.
Buford still attended his Lodge meetings and Sara had her quilting club. They both attended the local Baptist Church and were quite active in church activities. Buford had high blood pressure but was otherwise in good health for a man of 68. Sara had some arthritis in her hips but the medication Dr. Grover gave her enabled her to function normally even while she had some discomfort. “Why Buford --- that isn’t a very Christian thing to say!”
“Maybe not --- but I’ve just about had it with those sons of bitches! First, they took prayer out of the schools. Then they removed the crèches from in front of City Hall. Then they tried to take ‘under God’ out of the Pledge Allegiance. Then they banned prayers at high school football games and graduation ceremonies. Now they want to take the Ten Commandments out of the courthouse! Where are they going to stop?"
“I don’t really know, dear. But I just don’t want you to get your blood pressure up.”
“Well, I’m just glad we’re going up to Montgomery today with our church group to show support for God and his Ten Commandments. I’d like to take a stick to some of those sons of bitches on the other side!”
“Then you better get dressed soon so we can get to the church bus on time. They said to be there by ten.”
“Okay, I’ll be ready to go in twenty minutes.”
With that pronouncement Buford arose from the breakfast table and shuffled off to their bedroom. Several years ago a small town judge by the name of Roy Moore had posted a plaque bearing the Ten Commandments on it in his courtroom. This had caused such a controversy that Roy Moore ended up being elected Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court. Never mind that he wasn’t really all that qualified for that position --- but he was a devout man who bravely stood up in defense of the Ten Commandments! Then --- two years ago --- in the dead of night --- he had a 2½ ton stone monument moved into the rotunda of the State Justice Building, which monument had the Ten Commandments engraved into the stone. Soon thereafter the Southern Poverty Center and other Liberal groups filed suit to have the monument removed from the building because it was in violation of the Constitution’s “no establishment” clause and it was in violation of the doctrine of “separation of Church and State”. Now Buford knew that nowhere in the Constitution did it mention “separation of Church and State”. That was an interpretation of the Constitution put forth by liberal Supreme Court Justices. Buford also knew that various courts across the land had decided differently in cases involving Church and State. Some of the decisions flatly contradicted each other. And lastly, Buford was just plain tired of religions “being pushed around” as he often said. 100 percent of his Lodge members and fellow churchgoers agreed with Buford. This he knew for a certainty.
Meanwhile, fifteen miles north of Montgomery, another couple was preparing to attend a counter-protest rally in support of the removal of the monument. Jim and Helen O’Brien had just finished their breakfast and had adjourned to the bedroom and bathroom to prepare for the short trip. Jim was a 35 year old trial attorney and Helen was a 34 year old registered nurse at the nearby hospital. Jim had been raised a Roman Catholic but now considered himself an Atheist. Helen was still a Baptist but she rarely attended church. Jim and Helen rarely discussed religion but they both considered themselves Social Liberals on most issues. In the case of that monument they felt strongly that it should be removed because it violated the concept of separation of Church and State. They both were members of the American Civil Liberties Union and strong supporters of the Bill of Rights.
As Helen was putting on her makeup in front of the bathroom mirror she heard Jim talking to her.
“A damn bunch of rednecks have been over there outside that courthouse for two weeks now. And I’m getting tired of seeing them on TV with their self-righteous signs and speeches. Why can’t they just have their Ten Commandments and their prayers at their homes and in their churches? Why do they insist on flouting their religion in every damn public place they can think of? What is this? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Geeeez!”
Helen smiled and replied, “Be careful what you say about rednecks. Don’t forget that you’ve been sleeping with a redneck for the past nine years.”
“C’mon --- you’re no redneck. You’re a college grad with a registered nursing degree and a member of the A.C.L.U.!”
“Why, Mr. O’Brien --- ah do declare --- I’m just a po’ little Southern belle who was taken advantage of by a tall Yankee”, said Helen in a faked but good thick Southern accent. Helen did this from time to time and it always made Jim laugh. In truth, after 5 years away at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Helen had practically no Southern accent at all. She even sounded slightly like she was from New Jersey when she pronounced certain words.
Buford and Sara were now half way to Montgomery and everybody on the bus was singing “We Shall Overcome”. Buford mused that that was kind of strange because he had always thought of that song as a “nigger song” and there weren’t even any Black people in his church. Buford had never had anything against “the coloreds”, as he used to call them. And he had actually liked some of them at the plant. In fact there was one Black fellow that he often had had lunch with. The guy’s name was Jasper Thigpen and he was actually pretty smart. In fact, he had put his son, Mathew thru Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Young Mathew was now a heart specialist working at the main hospital in Montgomery. But, on the other hand, there were a lot of Black folks with “an attitude”. Buford had voted for George Wallace every time he had run for office --- even when he had run for President of the United States. But then again --- even Wallace had slowly changed his views about Black people over the years. Buford was just glad that his own daughter hadn’t married one.
A short time later the church bus pulled into a large parking lot about two blocks from the Justice Building. The church members exited the bus and began to walk towards the courthouse. They all carried with them their lunches in little bags --- as well as their signs. Buford’s sign read, “Keep God Inside”. Sara’s sign said, “No Justice without God”.
When their group of approximately 40 people arrived in front of the courthouse they noticed that there seemed to be two groups of people there --- separated by a line of police. On one side there was a group of about 100 people who, by their signs, were opposing the removal of the monument. On the other side there were maybe 40 people who (again from their signs) were supporting the removal of the monument. Buford’s church group moved towards the former group. A man with a clerical collar was making a speech over a microphone. The first thing Buford and Sara heard him say was, “When you take God out of Justice ---- there is no justice!”
Jim and Helen O’Brien heard those words, too, as they approached the courthouse from the other side. Helen had a sign that read. “Keep Church & State Separate!” Jim’s sign read, “Let Roy’s Rock Roll!” They joined their group on this hot summer day.
After awhile the pro-monument group began to sing “God Bless America”. Then the anti-monument group responded with “The Star Spangled Banner”. More speeches followed from both sides. About forty-five minutes later two college aged guys in the front of the anti-monument group hollered over bullhorns, “Go home you lousy rednecks!” A middle aged guy from the other side hollered back over his bullhorn, “Why don’t you Atheists go home?” At these taunts the police line stiffened.
Buford wasn’t feeling too well suddenly. He was really upset about the anti-monument crowd trying to dictate what should be placed in his courthouse. He was also getting upset about the taunts. “Damn Atheists! God should strike them down!” he mused. The sun was quite hot and just overhead now. None of the church crowd had eaten anything yet. Someone was supposed to have brought a large cooler with ice tea in it for the church crowd. But Buford hadn’t seen it yet nor had he seen the guy who was supposed to have supplied it. Without further warning Buford suddenly felt a sharp pain in his chest. Within two seconds he was on the pavement as Sara screamed for help.
On the other side Jim and Helen heard a woman scream but they had no idea what was going on. A few minutes later they heard that a man had fainted and might be having a heart attack. Just then a policeman hollered over in their direction. “Is there a doctor over here? We have a medical emergency on the other side!” Instinctively Helen shouted back. “I’m a registered nurse!”
“Then please come with me, Lady!”
Helen & Jim followed the cop across to the other side and thru the crowd. Then they saw a woman bending over a man on the ground. “Out of the way, folks --- nurse coming thru!” Some people moved back and Helen bent over the collapsed man who was now unconscious and not moving at all. He was face down on the pavement. “Help me roll him over, Jim!” With that Helen and Jim rolled the man over on his back and Helen stared into the face of her father. Her mouth fell open as she realized her mother was right across from her. “Mom --- what happened?”
“Helen ---- I’m shocked to see you! Your Dad just collapsed --- I think he might be having a heart attack!”
Helen felt his pulse and it was strong. She felt his forehead and it was quite warm. Helen then shouted out to no one in particular, “Someone please call an ambulance!” The cop who had brought her to her father shouted back, “It’s on its way!”
Four minutes later Buford was being loaded into the back of the ambulance and Sara was told she could ride in the back with her husband. Jim and Helen walked briskly to their car in a parking lot that was two blocks away. All of them ended up at Montgomery’s main hospital and the wait began. None of the other three said anything about the monument. They simply talked about Buford and how they hoped he would live. A few church members stopped by to see how Buford was doing. But there was no word yet on his condition.
After almost three hours a tall black man attired in a surgical gown entered the waiting room and walked up to Sara. “Mam’ --- your husband suffered a mild heart attack but as far as we can tell there is no appreciable damage and he should be okay. Later I will give you a list of instructions concerning his medications, diet and activities. You can expect that he will be in the hospital for about three or four days. That’s mainly to run a few more tests and to let him let a good rest.” Sara thanked the doctor profusely and there were smiles all around.
“By the way”, the surgeon said, “I’m Dr. Mathew Thigpen --- your husband and my father were good friends. They used to have lunch together all the time down at the plant.”
“Oh, I remember your father. His name was Jasper. How is he these days?”
“He passed away last year, Mrs. Hollingsworth.”
“I’m so sorry. We never heard.”
A few days later the Chief Justice’s monument was moved out of the building after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to issue a stay. Roy Moore was suspended with pay for refusing to move it in defiance of the order of a Federal Judge. Three months later he was removed from the Supreme Court and never served as a judge again. Buford did recover and lived for another eight years. Sara lived another nine years after that. Dr. Thigpen went on to become Chief Surgeon at that hospital. Helen continued to sleep with a tall Yankee. And the Ten Commandments monument was never returned to the courthouse.
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