Atheist group abandons fight against ‘Big Mountain Jesus’

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( – A statue of Jesus dubbed “Big Mountain Jesus,” which stands on a Montana ski slope as a World War II Memorial, is now safe from removal attempts by the atheist group, The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which claims that the statue’s presence on federal land violates the First Amendment.

The monument was erected by the Knights of Columbus in 1954 on Montana land with a permit from the U.S. Forest Service. World War II veterans who were also members of the Knights of Columbus commissioned the statue in memory of their fallen comrades, and to remind themselves of religious shrines they saw in Europe.

The statue has stood on Big Mountain near Whitefish Mountain Resort for 60 years.

The FFRF, a Wisconsin group, sued in 2012 on behalf of their members in Montana, arguing that the statue’s presence was a government endorsement of religion, which violates the First Amendment.

FFRF passed the deadline for appeal to the Supreme Court on Monday after its Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals loss in August following a five-year-battle against the statue.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled in August that “the government’s continued authorization of the statue on federal land does not violate the Establishment Clause.”

The decision noted that the government had secular rationales for its continued authorization of the statue, including “the statue’s cultural and historical significance for veterans, Montanans, and tourists; the statue’s inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places; and the government’s intent to preserve the site ‘as a historic part of the resort.’”

The decision added that “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.”

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in an August statement that the Knights of Columbus statue on federal land “means federal taxpayers are subsidizing religious speech, in this case Catholic.”

“FFRF should slink away with its tail between its legs,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund and lead attorney in this case, said Monday in a statement on FFRF passing its appeal deadline. “The First Amendment prohibits religious coercion, not religious culture. Picking a fight with a sixty-year-old war memorial makes FFRF look petty.”

“Of course militant atheists have rights, but not the right to dictate history and culture for everyone else,” Baxter added. “Religion is part of the human condition. It’s no surprise—and certainly no violation of the Constitution—that it sometimes manifests in public life.”

— Written by Lauretta Brown