The Montana ski resort statue known as “Big Mountain Jesus” has survived the most recent challenge to have it torn down (from the appeal argued in July). The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a small atheist group that scours the country for signs of religion over which to be offended, sued because the statue is technically on federal land, though the land is perpetually leased to a ski resort. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty defended the statue.
The statue was built in the style of European shrines by the Knights of Columbus to honor the 10th Mountain Division. The Division’s soldiers fondly recalled the many shrines they saw during their combat in World War II. In that regard, it was not raised as a religious shrine itself, as the FFRF claims, but as a memorial that invokes those shrines as an homage to the 10th Mountain Division.
The Appeals Court panel found, in a 2-1 ruling, the statue was essentially secular in purpose — including as justification its “irreverent” use: Read more
In 2014 the Freedom From Religion Foundation appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit intended to remove a statue of Jesus from public land (which is leased as a ski resort). The affectionately named “Big Mountain Jesus” statue was erected as a memorial to the 10th Mountain Division, who recalled seeing many similar shrines during their campaign in Italy during World War II.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty produced a video to explain some of the history of the memorial — history the FFRF calls a conspiracy. Meet Gene Thomas, a member of the Knights of Columbus, one of the men who has been caring for the memorial for 40 years.
The group argues the statue violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on Congress making any law regarding an establishment of religion.
The original court ruling had cited the historic value of the statue, and even made a point of saying the statue was more of a tourist attraction than religious monument. The FFRF apparently thinks that’s all part of a conspiracy: Read more
As previously discussed, the Freedom From Religion Foundation had sued because the US Forest Service renewed a special use permit that has allowed the statue to stand for more than 50 years. The Knights of Columbus put it up in 1954 in honor of Read more