As noted previously, a group of atheists (or anti-religionists) at the Freedom From Religion Foundation is trying to bring Jesus down from the mountain. After finally producing an actual plaintiff, a federal judge has ruled they have standing to continue their lawsuit:
The Knights of Columbus and four others had requested that the lawsuit be dismissed since the Freedom From Religion Foundation had not found an individual or group that maintained they were harmed by the statue’s presence.
Now William Cox, a self-avowed atheist who occasionally skies past the statue and lives 15 miles away, has said he considers it too religious and offensive.
The move was largely expected; the FRFF knew it would have to eventually produce an actual person to prevent their suit from being dismissed.
The land upon which the statue sits is leased from the Forest Service, though one would likely never realize that because it sits on the site of a commercial ski resort. “Big Mountain Jesus” was erected in 1952 in honor of war-weary troops from the 10th Mountain Division, as previously noted:
He has been there for more than 50 years, erected by the local Knights of Columbus chapter in honor of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who told of seeing similar shrines in the mountains of Italy during World War II.
Last year, for the first time in a half-century the Forest Service initially denied the 10-year permit renewal request in response to a complaint by the FFRF that the statue violated the US Constitution. (The fact the statue is more likely to be confused with skiing than the Government is lost on the FFRF.) In response to public outcry — and “new information” that the statue qualified for status as a historic site — the Forest Service reversed itself and granted the permit.
The lawsuit is a small part of the larger effort by the FRFF — led by husband and wife “co-presidents” — and other atheists to scrub public associations of religion from the public square. (The move has resulted in a similar push to protect war memorials.) Fortunately, the Supreme Court has explicitly recognized the futility of that claim:
The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm…
Unfortunately, it will likely have to get all the way to the Supreme Court — again — for that to be made clear.
Photo Credit: Dr. Raymond Leopold stands next to the 10th Mountain Division war memorial known as the Montana Jesus Statue. Credit: Becket Fund.