ATLANTA - Several hundred Christians outraged at recent legal challenges to the public display of the Ten Commandments rallied outside the Georgia Capitol on Monday, joined by state political leaders.
"Ours is a nation founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion," Gov. Sonny Perdue told the cheering crowd. "The vast majority of Americans believe these commandments have a place in the halls of justice."
About three hours later, fewer than 20 advocates for separation of church and state gathered at the same spot to present the other side.
"We urge all people to recognize that religious freedom requires not trying to use the power of government to force religious ideas on others," said Ed Buckner, the Southern director of the Council for Secular Humanism.
During the first rally, sponsored by the Christian Coalition of Georgia, Mr. Perdue and a half-dozen candidates for Congress spoke in front of a replica of the Ten Commandments sculpture ordered removed from a court building in Montgomery, Ala.
Roy Moore, Alabama's chief justice, fought the federal court ruling for weeks. A series of demonstrations at the building attracted worldwide news coverage, culminating late last month with the removal of the sculpture to a storage room.
In a court brief made public Monday, suspended Chief Justice Moore asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow his monument to be put back on display, the Associated Press reported.
The Atlanta rally was one of seven scheduled across the Southeast for the "Spirit of Montgomery" tour, set to conclude in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6. Late Monday, the tour moved to Winder, where the Barrow County Commission is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for refusing to remove a framed copy of the commandments from the courthouse.
Dr. Jody Hice, pastor of Bethlehem First Baptist Church in Barrow, addressed the Capitol rally, praising county officials for taking a stand against the ACLU.
"It amazes me that, at a time in our country when we're filled with crime, violence and immorality - that some would look at these commandments and say they're dangerous," he said.
"The real danger is liberal organizations like the ACLU - attempting to cram down our throats their liberal agenda."
Both sides in Monday's rallies argued that history is on their side. Several speakers at the Christian Coalition rally said the value of the Ten Commandments to America goes beyond religion to the laws on which the nation was founded.
"We get to live in a nation that based its legal system on these principles," said Ralph Reed, a former national director of the Christian Coalition and former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.
Later, Mr. Buckner cited founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin as opponents of government sanction of religion.
"We have no intention of denying anybody their right to practice religion," said Pat Cleveland, the director of the Alabama Free Thought Association, who traveled to Atlanta for the second rally. "But not in my judicial building and not in my courthouse."
While all of the politicians who spoke at the Christian Coalition rally were Republicans, several Democrats either sent letters of support to the demonstration's organizers or issued statements of support.
The speakers included all three GOP candidates vying to succeed Democratic U.S. Sen. Zell Miller: U.S. Reps. Mac Collins, R-Hampton, and Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, and businessman Herman Cain of Atlanta.
Letters or statements came from Mr. Miller and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
Criticism of court rulings on the Ten Commandments has become a popular cause for politicians. A nationwide poll released last month showed overwhelming public opposition to the ruling in the Alabama case.