Montana Jesus statue “days away” from answers

Answers to what? Questions about the rightness of having religious iconography on federal land. The painted concrete statue has been a feature at Whitefish Mountain Resort for decades but recently the Freedom from Religion Foundation pointed out the Christian nature of the display and reminded the state’s Forestry Service about the need to keep church and state separate. (I wrote about this before.) The Knights of Columbus commissioned the statue back in ’50s to commemorate WWII veterans and requested the design pay homage to religiously inspired monuments in Europe (albeit, in my mind, achieved in the tackiest possible way). KOC obtained a special permit to place it on the land and FFRF put their complaint in when they did because the permit was up for renewal. From the Watertown Daily Times:

The controversy with the statue arose when the council last fall filed for a 10-year renewal of the special-use permit for the statue to use a 25-by-25-foot plot of land. The council initially was rejected because of concerns about the statue’s religious nature violating the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause.

“It’s been there for 60 years, and it didn’t bother anybody,” Mr. Glidden said. “Now it’s bothering somebody.”

He has no idea how many people it might have bothered during those 60 years. It could have bothered dozens or even hundreds of people but none of them were in a good position to protest. As FFRF and organizations like them grow, it gets easier to fight against government-sanctioned religious displays. Easier in terms of rallying public support, at least. Winning the cases is not that easy. People think tradition is reason enough to keep pro-Judeo-Christian icons in place. Never mind how wrong it is for a secular government to promote any religion, let alone one above all others…

Nationally, the statue has seen opposition from atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation, but it has strong support from Christian groups American Center for Law and Justice and the Liberty Institute. U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., also sent a letter to forest officials in support of the statue.

“Any time you’re talking religion, you’re going to have that reaction,” said E. Wade Muehlhof, a public affairs officer at Flathead National Forest.

KOC is trying to get the statue relabeled as a historic landmark, which would make its place in the world a lot more permanent. The Forestry Service has had thousands of letters to go through that cover all sides of this issue but within the next couple weeks, they’ll be making the final decision on the statue’s future. I’ll check back.

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