Update to this story.
A federal appeals court says that a statue of Jesus Christ can remain at the summit of Big Mountain near Whitefish, ruling that the U.S. Forest Service’s permitting of the statue does not violate the First Amendment.
The statue on the mountain’s summit was erected in the early 1950’s by the Knights of Columbus as a tribute to soldiers who lost their lives in World War 2.
But three years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation asked that the statue be removed, fighting a request for the U.S. Forest Service to grant a new permit for the statue.
Eventually the Forest Service granted the permit, but FFRF appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeals court ruled in favor of the Forest Service on Monday, saying the agency hadn’t violated the “Establishment Clause”, which prevents the federal government from preferring, or endorsing, one religion over another.
The justices ruled the Forest Service’s decision to grant a new permit “did not constitute an endorsement of religion.”
“Nothing apart from the statue’s likeness suggests a religious motive on USFS’ part,” the justices wrote in the 6-page opinion.
FFRF had complained the statue’s location was objectionable because it was on public property and couldn’t be easily avoided by people who might be offended.
However, the appeals court noted the history of the statue, as well as its remote location.
“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,” the opinion reads, noting the statue is privately owned and maintained. “It did not sprout from the minds of [government] officials and was not funded from [the government’s] coffers.”