Atheist Group Seeks Removal of 60-Year-Old War Memorial "Big Mountain Jesus"

Posted: May 04, 2014 2:00 PM

Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort in Montana is home to a World War II memorial which one group of atheists is intent on bringing down. The Knights of Columbus installed the 6-foot-tall Jesus to honor Army veterans who served in ski patrols in the Alps of Italy. After the National Forest Service renewed the Knight’s license for the memorial in 2012, an atheist group promptly sued.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will now have to decide whether to uphold the district court’s ruling to dismiss the case, or to override the decision and rule the memorial unconstitutional.

According to the atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the memorial violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by placing a “permanent Catholic shrine on public land.”

In the lower court ruling, Judge Dana Christensen validated the memorial’s presence for both its historical significance and for being accepted by many for non-religious purposes:

“Big Mountain Jesus has been the subject of much frivolity over the years,” Christensen wrote. “In addition to serving as a meeting place on the mountain for skiers and a site for weddings, it has not infrequently been observed adorned with ski poles, goggles, ski hats, mardi gras beads and other attire, all secular in nature. In fact, frequent repairs have been made to the outstretched hands of Big Mountain Jesus which have been dislodged by passing skiers who have given a ‘high five’ to the statue.”

For many, Christensen said, the statue is mostly “a historical reminder of those bygone days of sack lunches, ungroomed runs, rope tows, T-bars, leather ski boots and 210 cm. skis.”

There is no reason the previous ruling should not stand. As Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated:

The statue is an important piece of the history and culture at Big Mountain. We don’t tear down history just because it has some religious aspects.

Learn more about the unique history of the memorial here.