Flathead County Coverage

Aug 22, 2013 5:51 PM by Laura Wilson - KAJ News

Appeal filed in Jesus statue ruling

WHITEFISH - The celebration of the Jesus statue's permanent home atop Whitefish Mountain Resort may be short lived. Just days before its appeal deadline, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has made a decision.

"We are planning an appeal in the Jesus statue case in Montana," said Rebecca Markert, FFRF Senior Staff Attorney.

It's a decision that isn't sitting well with many Flathead residents.

"I think for them, it's obviously a major political pulpit to stand on. And, I think it does make people angry. The reality of it is, if you don't want to look at it then don't look at it. Just ski on by it if it bothers you," said Andy Geiger, Kalispell resident.

The statue was originally placed on Big Mountain by the Knights of Columbus nearly 60 years ago, to commemorate local World War II veterans.

FFRF filed a lawsuit last year, though, saying it was unconstitutional to sanction and maintain the statue on national forest land.

But a 28-page ruling, handed down from U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen back in June, said the statue "neither offends nor inspires" and could remain on Big Mountain.

"We do think it was an outrageous decision by a federal judge to rule that a statue of Jesus is not religious. Anybody looking at a statue of Jesus and familiar with the history of this particular Catholic shrine would understand that this is government endorsement of religion. It's a religious statue sitting on government land," said Markert.

But we spoke with longtime residents both on and off camera who say the statue isn't so much a part of religion as it is history, especially when it comes to early development on Big Mountain.

"I've been skiing here since I was 14 years old-so 30 years. I never hear any negative comments when you ski by it. I think the locals love it-it's part of the mountain. It's been here for so long.
To me it's just the fundamentals of someone from somewhere else trying to decide what's going to happen on our mountain here-it's not right," said Geiger.

FFRF will file its appeal by Friday afternoon, at the latest. For now, the Jesus statue is staying put.

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