The U.S. Department of Justice has waded into a legal battle over a statue of Jesus Christ on public land in Whitefish, Mont., arguing that it fulfills a primarily secular purpose and should be allowed to remain standing.
Colloquially known as the “Big Mountain Jesus,” the statue was erected by the Knights of Columbus in 1953 allegedly as a war memorial and sits on federal land near the Big Mountain Ski Resort.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit to have the statue removed in 2011 after the Knights re-applied for a permit from the National Forest Service to keep the statue on public property. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen ruled that the figure did not violate the First Amendment. FFRF then appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now, the Obama administration has requested that the appeals court uphold the lower court ruling.
“The statue sits by the side of a ski slope on a privately-operated ski resort,” the brief noted; it went on to argue that the Forest Service’s decision to issue a permit for the statue does not count as an endorsement of religion. Instead, the department argued, the statue’s rural location sets it legally apart from displays at government buildings.
(Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Weber)