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Entries in Freedom From Religion Foundation (11)


Judge rules Big Mountain Jesus statue can remain

(MISSOULA)- A federal judge says the statue of Jesus Christ on Big Mountain is "unquestionably" a religious symbol. But he rules the Forest Service was within the law when it granted a new permit for the statue more than a year ago. 

That's the ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen who issued the summary judge Monday in favor of the Forest Service, in the case brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

FFRF had filed suit against the Forest Service and the Knights of Columbus for permitting the statue on federal land at the summit of Big Mountain. The statue was first erected in the early 1950s in tribute to World War 2 veterans. 

But FFRF claimed it was a religious icon, and as such violated the U.S. Constitution, challenging the Forest Service's decision to grant a new permit for the statue in 2011. 

All parties agreed not to take the case to a trial, which would have happened earlier this month, agreeing instead to a summary judgement from the bench. 

In the 28-page ruling, Christensen found that while the status is a religious symbol "not every religious symbol runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the United Status Constitution." 

"To some, Big Mountain Jesus is offensive, and to others it represents only a religious symbol," Chistensen wrote. "But the court suspects that most who happen to encounter Big Mountain Jesus, it neither offends nor inspires."  He went on to say the statue is a reminder of skiing at Big Mountain before development, and "to many serves as a historical reminder of those bygone days of sack lunches, ungroomed runs, rope tows, t-bars, leather ski boots, and 210 cm. skis."

Christensen ruled the new permit doesn't "reflect government endorsement of religion", noting it location on a "private ski hill", with a plaque showing private ownership, saying many who view the statue probably aren't aware of any government connection. 


Lawsuit over Whitefish Jesus statue will continue 

(MISSOULA)- A U.S. District Court judge is allowing the lawsuit over the statue of Jesus Christ on Big Mountain to continue, now that a Wisconsin-based group shows it has a Montana member who objects to the monument. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been fighting over the future of the 57-year old statue for more than a year. When the group lost its effort to convince the U.S. Forest Service to deny a new permit for the statue, it filed suit the Forest Service, and the Knights of Columbus, which erected the monument.

FFRF maintains the statue is really a religious shrine, and is illegal on public property, rejecting arguments that it’s an “historical monument” to World War 2 soldiers.

However, the Foundation was forced to produce evidence it had members in Montana who objected to the statue to prove that it had “standing” to bring the suit. The group filed an affidavit from Flathead County resident William Cox, who says he skis at Whitefish Mountain resort and considers the statue to be religious and offensive.

Now, Judge Dana Christensen has ruled that’s “sufficent to confer standing”, allowing the lawsuit to proceed, since Cox would would “have standing to sue in his own right.”

The case is still set to go to trial this coming March. 


Trial scheduled for Big Mountain statue fight

(MISSOULA)- That fight over a statue of Jesus Christ on Big Mountain will finally be heard in court early next year.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing the U.S. Forest Service over its decision to issue a permit for the statue, which was erected in the years following World War 2 by the Knights of Columbus. The controversy erupted in a firestorm of debate and comment last winter, prompting the Forest Service to review, and then reserve an earlier decision to not renew the permit for the small statue.

The Foundation maintains the statue violates federal law prohibiting "religious displays" on federal property. Supporters argue the statue is "historic" and a tribute to veterans who lost their lives serving in the mountains of Europe during the war. 

The Daily Interlake reports a trial has now been scheduled to start in U.S. District Court in Missoula next March. 


FFRF files suit challenging Big Mountain Jesus statue

(MISSOULA)- The Freedom From Religion Foundation has followed through with its threat to file a legal challenge against the Forest Service, seeking to overturn the agency’s decision to grant a new permit to the controversial Jesus statue on Big Mountain.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Missoula. 

Last week Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber announced he had decided to issue a new 10-year permit for the statue, which was erected by the Knights of Columbus in the early 1950s to honor World War 2 veterans. 

But FFRF maintains the statue is a religious shrine and doesn’t belong on federal property. 

The suit was filed on behalf of the group’s 17,500 members, including more than 100 in Montana and those "who have had direct and unwanted exposure to the shrine".

FFRF seeks a declaration the statue violates the First Amendment. 


Flathead National Forest re-authorizes permit for Jesus statue

(KALISPELL)- Citing its “historical heritage”, Flathead National Forest managers are re-authorizing the permit for the controversial statue of Jesus Christ at the summit of Big Mountain.

Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber announced the decision this morning, ending several months of additional review for the permit for the statue erected by the Knights of Columbus in the early 1950s.

The Forest Service had initially denied a new permit for the statue, after the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to the monument last year. The group argued that the statue wasn’t merely a monument to World War 2 veterans, but a religious icon that shouldn’t be allowed on public lands.

The decision came under fire from conservatives and Christian groups after Congressman Denny Rehberg drew attention to the issue, promoting Weber to reconsider the matter. That lead to a new review that generated nearly 100,000 f comments from across the country.

Weber says he is reauthorizing the permit because “I understand the statue has been a long-standing object in the community since 1955, and I recognize that the statue is important to the community for its historical heritage based on its association with the early development of the ski area on Big Mountain.”  He noted the statue’s “historic value and eligibility” for listing on the National Register of Historic Places is in part directly linked to the current physical location of the statue.

The permit is reauthorized for 10-years.

It remains to be seen whether FFRF will launch legal action to challenge the new permit.