A judge has ruled against an atheist group fighting to get a statue of Jesus removed from the top of a Montana mountain.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that providing a permit for the “Big Mountain Jesus” memorial did not constitute an establishment of religion, defeating efforts by anti-religion activists to have the statue taken down.
“Today’s decision rejects the idea that history and the First Amendment ought to be enemies,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a religious liberty legal group that argued the case, said in a statement. “Freedom From Religion Foundation wanted to use the First Amendment to erase Big Mountain Jesus from memory, even though it is, as the Court recognized, a crucial part of the history of Montana. Thank goodness for common sense.”
The Knights of Columbus built the statue in 1954 as a memorial for fallen World War II soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. In June of 2013, the District Court ruled in favor of the Becket Fund.
The appellate judge agreed, noting that the statue is not near a government building, is privately owned and is not funded by the government.
“Does a statue standing alone in the forest establish an official state religion? Today the Ninth Circuit emphatically said no.” Baxter said in a statement. “The Court rightly rejected Freedom From Religion Foundation’s radical idea that a privately-owned memorial standing in the middle of a ski resort violates the Constitution.”
The Becket Fund interviewed the men from the Knights of Columbus who perform maintenance on the statue.
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