Northwestern Jesus statue dispute heads to Federal Appeals Court

A group known as the Freedom From Religion Foundation will contest a religious statue they say does not belong on public ground. A U.S. District judge approved a 10-year permit allowing the statue's owners to continue maintaining it at its current site, located atop a mountain near a resort in the northwestern U.S.

The appeals process represents an important way for citizens, businesses and other entities in Oregon to pursue legal claims even after they have been rejected by a court, and is a key part of the U.S. judicial system at large. Individuals unsatisfied with the results of civil litigation in which they were involved may file an appeal in the hopes that the initial decision will be overturned in their favor.

The judge found that while the statue of Jesus is indeed on federal land, it "neither offends nor inspires" and thus does not violate the First Amendment. He allowed the Flathead National Forest to continue leasing the parcel of land to the local Knights of Columbus chapter that erected the statue in 1955 as a World War II memorial and have continued to care for it in the decades since. Furthermore, he explained that the monument is known more for its secular uses, such as a place for skiers and hikers to meet or take photographs, and is largely irreligious.

The FFRF rejected the judge's assertion, arguing that the government is endorsing Christianity by allowing the statue on federal property and thus failing to abide by the First Amendment's ban on laws about the establishment of religion. The group filed an appeal with the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

The group's pressure to remove the so-called "Big Mountain Jesus" monument initially appeared to be successful when the United States Forest Service chose to turn down the permit and move the statue. However, that decision was met with substantial public resistance, prompting the Forest Service to initiate a public review and collect comments about the statue. The Service ultimately received nearly 95,000 comments, none of which convincingly argued that the statue presented any environmental problems. The Forest Service subsequently reissued the permit.


Source: 
Flathead Beacon, "Fate of 'Big Mountain Jesus' to be Determined by Federal Appeals Court" No author listed, Aug. 30, 2013

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