Published On: Tue, Sep 8th, 2015

Court rules that ‘Big Mountain Jesus’ statue in Montana can remain

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a previous ruling to allow a statue of Jesus to remain on a Montana mountain. A suit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) attempted to get the statue removed, claiming it reflected the government’s promotion of religion.
The statue, known by locals as “Big Mountain Jesus,” was erected by the Knights of Columbus in 1954 as a memorial to their fallen World War II comrades and as a remembrance of religious shrines they saw while deployed in Europe.
In 2012, the FFRF fought against the permit used to erect the statue, suing the Forest Service but lost. The atheist group then appealed the court’s decision. In 2013, the FFRF lost the appealed case, and now they have lost their case again, but they say they will once again appeal the court’s decision.
Eric Baxter, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, commented on the court’s decision: “Freedom From Religion Foundation wanted to use the First Amendment to erase Big Mountain Jesus from memory, even though it is, as the Court recognized, a crucial part of the history of Montana,” Baxter said. “Thank goodness for common sense.”
Court rules that this Montana statue of Jesus can stay photo FFRF

Court rules that this Montana statue of Jesus can stay photo FFRF

Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president had stated. “I think it will be very easy to show that this special permit is a sham.”

“This has been an illegal display. The lease should have never happened,” Gaylor said. “Just because a violation is long-lasting doesn’t make it historic. It makes it historically bad. It makes it worse. It makes it all the more reason to get rid of it.”

“The judge said the statue has no religious purpose, but the Knights of Columbus said they put it up to erect a shrine. He turns the First Amendment on its head to claim a Jesus statue is not religious.”

“I couldn’t be more disappointed in an Obama appointee,” Gaylor said. “He might as well be a Bush appointee.”

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the earlier decision in a 2-1 split:

Our determination is based on the following: (1) there is nothing in the statue’s display or setting to suggest government endorsement; the twelve-foot tall statue is on a mountain, far from any government seat or building, near a commercial ski resort, and accessible only to individuals who pay to use the ski lift; (2) the statue’s plaque communicates that it is privately owned and maintained — “it did not sprout from the minds of [government] officials and was not funded from [the government’s] coffers”… (3) besides the statue’s likeness, there is nothing in the display or setting to suggest a religious message. The mountain’s role as a summer and winter tourist destination used for skiing, hiking, biking, berry-picking, and site-seeing suggests a secular context; the location “does not readily lend itself to meditation or any other religious activity,” and the setting “suggests little or nothing of the sacred”… (4) the flippant interactions of locals and tourists with the statue suggest secular perceptions and uses: decorating it in mardi gras beads, adorning it in ski gear, taking pictures with it, high-fiving it as they ski by, and posing in Facebook pictures; (5) local residents commonly perceived the statue as a meeting place, local landmark, and important aspect of the mountain’s history as a ski area and tourist destination; and, (6) there is an absence of complaints throughout its sixty-year history…

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About the Author

- Catherine "Kaye" Wonderhouse, a proud descendant of the Wunderhaus family is the Colorado Correspondent who will add more coverage, interviews and reports from this midwest area.

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