MISSOULA, Mont. (CNS) – A federal district court judge ruled June 24 that the statue of Jesus erected on federal land at Big Mountain in Montana can stay where it is.
“Leasing public land within a private ski resort to a private organization that maintains a statue of Jesus does not violate the Establishment Clause” of the Constitution, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled.
“The statue does not convey to a reasonable informed observer that the government rather than a private party endorses Christianity over any other faith or the absence of faith,” Christensen said in his 28-page decision.
For the past 60 years, the Knights of Columbus has leased from the federal government national forest land above Chair 2 at Whitefish Mountain Resort at Big Mountain to put up the statue.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued in 2011 to block the resistance of a permit allowing the statue to stay at the site.
Christensen’s ruling granted the Knights of Columbus’ request for summary judgment to allow the Flathead National Forest to reissue the permit for the statue.
“I am pleased that the court validated the reissuance of this special-use permit,” Flathead National Forest supervisor Chip Weber told the Daily Interlake, a newspaper in Kalispell. “It is my position that the statue has been a long-standing object in the community since 1955. It is important to the community for its historical heritage in association with the early development of the ski area on Big Mountain.”
Matthew St. John at the Knights of Columbus headquarters in New Haven, Conn., said in a statement that “both common sense and tolerance make clear that a monument to veterans on public land – that includes religious imagery – does not establish a state religion for anyone.”