Flathead County Coverage

Jun 2, 2012 10:52 AM by Dax VanFossen - KAJ News

New group joins fight over Whitefish Jesus statue

WHITEFISH- A new organization has joined in the fight to keep the statue of Jesus Christ where it sits on Forest Service land on Big Mountain.

The Knights of Columbus currently maintain the statue and reporter Dax VanFossen spoke with one of the men who is helping take care of the 60-year-old monument.

"These particular soldiers had been fighting in the Italian Alps, and as they were doing that they kept coming upon different kinds of statues like this," Dr. Ray Leopold with the Knights of Columbus explained about the statue.

Leopold works to maintain the statue of Jesus Christ on Big Mountain every year. That statue has been one of the hottest topics in recent news after a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation voiced their opposition.

The Wisconsin-based group has since filed a lawsuit after the US Forest Service recently decided to renew a 10 year permit. Leopold says he's heard all the arguments against the statue.

"I've also heard comments, well what would you think if other groups went up there and put all these other types of statues next to the statue that's up there. Well if they do that, they're doing it in spite. The statue wasn't put there in spite, it was put there to memorialize the young men from this local area who fought in World War II. You know, the Greatest Generation," Leopold said.

That lawsuit opposing the Forest Service decision, now sits in the hands of the US District Court in Missoula. But recently on behalf of Leopold and other Knights of Columbus, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is asking the U.S. District Court to vindicate the statue's existence. Leopold says let the statue stand where it does.

"You know some of those people from here were lost in that war and others came back here and they found a way to memorialize them. And it's been there with most people liking it there. When the forestry service asked for comments, I think they got almost a 100 thousand comments and I think well over 90% were very favorable."

A call to the Freedom From Religion Foundation was not immediately returned today. The decision whether or not to block the Forest Service's ruling now rests in Federal Court in Missoula.

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