Jesus Statue At Resort Causes Controversy

| by Maura Turcotte

In northwestern Montana, an advocacy group is calling for Jesus to come down from the mountain.

Big Mountain Jesus, as the 6-foot-tall statue is called, has riled the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The statue currently sits atop a mountain in the Whitefish Mountain Resort, but with the land only leased from the government, FFRF believes the monument is unconstitutional and should be removed, reports AP via MSN.

Placed on the mountain in 1954 by Catholic group the Knights of Columbus, the statue serves as memorial to remember the soldiers who died in World War II. In June 2013, the Wisconsin-based FFRF filed a lawsuit, citing that Big Mountain Jesus violates the Constitution’s establishment clause, which prohibits any government endorsement of a religion. The lawsuit was dismissed, reports the Missoulian.

In the dismissal, the Missoulian documents U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wrote, “Big Mountain Jesus constitutes private speech reflecting the personal views of its private owners and therefore cannot be seen by the reasonable observer as reflecting government promotion of religion.”

Adamant, the group appealed the decision and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals took up the case.

Representing the FFRF, attorney Richard Bolton argued that, even though the statue is privately owned, Big Mountain Jesus still infringes on the establishment clause.

"The question is whether there's a perception of religious endorsement," the attorney told the three-judge appeals panel. He contended that the statue does endorse religion, documents MSN.

One of the judges on the panel, Judge N. Randy Smith, questioned if the nontheist group even had a standing argument in the case. Bolton had claimed that one of FFRF’s members, Pamela Morris, avoids the resort now because she encountered the statue as a teenager.

In response, Smith remarked, “She can ski Big Mountain and have the best experience of her life, even as good as Idaho, and never see it. She has to go specifically looking for it,” reports the Missoulian.

Attorney Joan Pepin, representing the U.S. Forest Service, explained that the statue’s historical significance goes beyond any religious implications.

“It’s just a beloved, local, quirky monument,” she said to the panel. “It’s usually wearing a ski helmet,” documents MSN.

Yet with no precise date of when the judges might rule, the fate of Big Mountain Jesus still remains in the hands of the judges.

Sources: MSN (AP), Missoulian  / Photo Source: AP via MSN