Monday, July 01, 2013

Atheists Sue to Bring Goofy Jesus Down in Montana

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is considering an appeal of the decision of U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen to allow the "goofy statue of Jesus Christ," placed by the Knights of Columbus in the 1950s, to remain on Big Mountain at the Whitefish Mountain Resort where He overlooks Whitefish Lake and the Flathead Valley in Whitefish, Montana.

For background, click headlines below to read previous articles:

Atheists Sue to Remove Christ from 9/11 Memorial

Atheists Want Marine Memorial Demolished at Pendleton

Atheists Want WWI Memorial Cross Demolished in Rhode Island

Lone Atheist Removes Cross from Catholic Athletes

University Strips Crosses from Students' Chests

Atheists Knock Christmas Cross Off Illinois Water Tower

Supreme Court Says No Crosses - Does that mean Arlington Also?

-- From "Judge: Jesus statue can stay on Montana mountain" by The Associated Press 6/28/13

The judge disagreed with a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics that argued the Forest Service was unconstitutionally sanctioning the statue. Its religious nature has been made clear in special-use permit applications since the 1950s, the Freedom From Religion Foundation had argued.

The Forest Service first indicated in 2011 that it would reject a new permit for the statue, which occupies a 25-by-25 foot patch of land at Whitefish Mountain Resort. But the agency reversed itself in 2012 amid public outcry.

Christensen said that 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. The new federal judge, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011, said the statue is one of the last remaining remnants of the original Big Mountain Ski Resort, and some locals say it reflects the transition from old timber town to tourist hotspot.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Jesus statue can stay on Montana mountain, federal judge decides" by Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times 6/29/13

In 2011, the Freedom From Religion Foundation — a Madison, Wis.-based group of atheists, agnostics and skeptics — objected to having a religious statue on federal land. That prompted the Forest Service to decide the statue should go, only to quickly reverse course after falling under criticism [by local residents and the Knights]. Freedom From Religion then sued the government.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen, who was appointed to his bench by President Barack Obama in 2011, granted the Knights of Columbus permission for a 10-year permit to stay on the site. Christensen ruled that the ski Jesus has been a little too goofy to be sacred, as the suers had claimed.

"The statue's secular and irreverent uses far outweigh the few religious uses it has served. The statue is most frequently used as a meeting point for skiers or hikers and a site for photo opportunities, rather than a solemn place for religious reflection," the judge wrote in the ruling. "Typical observers of the statue are more interested in giving it a high-five or adorning it in ski gear than sitting before it in prayer."

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Judge says Big Mountain Jesus can stay" by Daily Inter Lake (NW Montana) 6/27/13

“Leasing public land within a private ski resort to a private organization that maintains a statue of Jesus does not violate the establishment clause,” Christensen ruled, referring to the First Amendment’s assurance that the state shall not establish a religion.

Charlie Harball, the Kalispell attorney representing the Knights of Columbus locally, praised Christensen’s ruling. “I think it is a very well written ruling. He applied the law in a very thoughtful way. If it is appealed, it will go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We feel very comfortable that Judge Christensen’s ruling will withstand the scrutiny of the court of appeals.”

According to Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber, "I am pleased that the court validated the re-issuance of this special-use permit. 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.”

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE 8/31/15: From "'Big Mountain Jesus' gets OK from 9th Circuit Court of Appeals" by Vince Devlin, Helena Independent Record

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled that a 12-foot statue of Jesus at Whitefish Mountain Resort “did not sprout from the minds of (government) officials and was not funded from (the government’s) coffers.”

The Ninth Circuit upheld a 2013 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen, who dismissed a lawsuit by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation objecting to the statue.

“Thank goodness for common sense,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued on behalf of the statue that has stood on a mountain at the ski resort for 61 years. “Today’s decision rejects the idea that history and the First Amendment ought to be enemies.”

Judges Harry Pregerson of Woodland Hills, California, N. Randy Smith of Pocatello, Idaho, and John Owens of San Diego heard the appeal.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE 8/31/15: From "Federal government’s allowing Big Mountain Jesus statue on federal land in Montana doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause" by Eugene Volokh, Washington Post

Here’s most of the opinion, signed by Judges N.R. Smith and John Owens:
First, USFS’s decision to renew the statue’s permit reflected a primarily secular purpose. The government identified secular rationales for its continued authorization 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.” . . .

Second, USFS’s permit authorization did not constitute an endorsement of religion. Our determination is based on the following: (1) 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; (2) the statue’s plaque communicates that it is privately owned and maintained — “it did not sprout from the minds of [government] officials and was not funded from [the government’s] coffers”; (3) besides the statue’s likeness, there is nothing in the display or setting to suggest a religious message. . . . (4) the flippant interactions of locals and tourists with the statue suggest secular perceptions and uses: decorating it in mardi gras beads, adorning it in ski gear, taking pictures with it, high-fiving it as they ski by, and posing in Facebook pictures; (5) local residents commonly perceived the statue as a meeting place, local landmark, and important aspect of the mountain’s history as a ski area and tourist destination; and, (6) there is an absence of complaints throughout its sixty-year history . . .
To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.