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Alabama tourism official: Ten Commandments reaction got more attention than recent Roy Moore scandal

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore talks to reporters at the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala., Wednesday, July 2, 2003. According to Alabama’s Tourism Director Lee Sentell, the display produced more reaction to the state in the early 2000s than the recent scandal involving Moore and alleged contact he had with teenagers decades ago. (file photo).

For now, Sentell said the only people his office is hearing from are Moore detractors after The Washington Post published a story Thursday detailing claims that the former judge had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl in 1979. The story also details accounts of Moore’s romantic pursuits with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

Moore will face off against Democrat Doug Jones during the Dec. 12 general election for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat recently held by current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"The reaction back then generated a lot more comments from both sides of the issue than what we’ve seen in the last few days, where the only people we are hearing from now are Moore’s detractors," said Sentell.

Shortly after he was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2001, Moore oversaw the display of a granite sculpture featuring two carved tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Moore refused to the move the monument after numerous organizations, including the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed a federal lawsuit.

The standoff lasted through 2003, and ended with Moore’s removal from the bench.

It also generated a lot of publicity through the national media, and Sentell said his office was inundated with reaction.

"The reactions on both sides were very vocal and very critical of the state," Sentell said. "It went on for several weeks."

Sentell said he’s unsure how the recent attention will affect tourism next year, and whether anyone outside the state will opt forgo a trip to Alabama because of the recent Moore controversy.

"The election will come and go in a month, and then we’ll see," he said

Alabama, in 2016, set a record for annual tourism for the sixth year in a row since the 2010 BP oil spill. More than 25.8 million people visited Alabama last year, up from 2.5 percent over the 25.2 million people who came in 2015.

Travelers spent more than $13.3 billion last year, an increase of 5.4 percent over 2015.

Much of the tourism activity in Alabama is linked to five of the state’s largest counties – Baldwin, Jefferson, Madison, Mobile and Montgomery.

Baldwin County, by far, leads the way in tourism activity because the state’s sugar-white sand beaches are located in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

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