Catholics aim to keep Jesus on Big Mountain

As Catholic Bishops in the U.S. plot public relations strategy to improve their public image, I suggest they throw in with the Knights of Columbus in Montana, who are working to make sure a statue of Jesus Christ stays where it is on Forest Service land on Big Mountain.

The statue of Jesus has been a popular fixture on the mountain since 1954, when it was erected as a memorial to the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division. Earlier this year a national organization of agnostics and atheists sued the U.S. government over placement of this statue, and a federal judge has just ruled that the Knights can intervene in the case.

The Knights of Columbus can intervene to fend off a lawsuit over a statue of Jesus at a war memorial on federal land, a Montana federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Mont., said that the Catholic service group has a protectable interest in the lawsuit since it holds a special use permit for the statue.

"Should the plaintiff obtain the relief it seeks, the resulting removal of the statute from federal land would constitute a serious impairment of the ability of the Knights of Columbus to protect their interest in the special use permit," Christensen wrote. "This matter has not been set for trial and no pretrial schedule is yet in place; thus, the application to intervene is timely."

I do know from having skied at Big Mountain that a lot of folks in Montana dig the Jesus statue, which seems to be as much a piece of public art as it is a religious symbol.

Comments (10)

In cases such as this I would think it would be more propitious for the atheist/agnostic group to apply to erect a monument of their own (on the same property as the statue of Jesus).

-Cullin R. Schooley

As a Montanan, I think all the out of state troublemakers should mind their own business. The statue is popular here and out of the way. And we don't like others from WI, CA, etc. telling us what to do. I've seen statues and "art" in other places that offended me, but I don't run around trying to destroy it. This is an out of state organization meddling simply because they love to meddle. They're celebrating forcing nativities out of a park in California and if they win this, they'll just move on and start another lawsuit. When they run out of statues/nativities, perhaps they'll start trying to get all religious places off the National Registry of Historic Places--or maybe just try to get rid of the National Cathedral. It must be against the law to have a National Cathedral in America, right?

Chris Harwood

The establishment clause of the First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." A religious statue located on federal property would seem to entangle church and state by implying that the federal government approves of a particular religion.

One needn't be an atheist or agnostic to appreciate the importance of the First Amendment. Separation of church and state promotes freedom of religion.


Gary Paul Gilbert

Allowing a statue is not passing a law demanding/banning a particular religion. As long as the gov't doesn't, for example, allow the Catholic statue, but bans a Shinto shrine honoring the Japanese in the internment camps or a Buddhist/Daoist shrine to the Chinese who built the railroads, etc. where's the establishment? Let be.

Actually the religion with the most relics, paintings, or sacred places on Federal lands here is the Native Americans'. All of Glacier National Park and large areas of other Federal land here were once part of the reservations. Does that make it the established religion? Why aren't they suing to destroy all the cave paintings, sacred places, etc. there? They don't even have use permits. Can you imagine the uproar if the agnostics/atheists demanded destoying them?

P.S. If never causing offense for any reason is the name of the game, can I have someone back up a garbage truck to the Museum of Modern Art and get rid of the federally funded "art" that offends me, please? The fact it exists offends even if I've never seen it, just like the existence of the statue apparently offends the out-of-state meddlers who've never seen it. And the gov't didn't pay to build it.

Chris Harwood

The courts will decide this. Separation of church and state is important value found in the constitution. There are no outsiders and insiders when discussing the constitution.

A private museum can display whatever art it wants because it is private.

Gary Paul Gilbert

It sounds like the statue is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, a principle that serves both church and state.

I do know from having skied at Big Mountain that a lot of folks in Montana dig the Jesus statue, which seems to be as much a piece of public art as it is a religious symbol.

Yup, majorities generally dig majority privilege (and can't understand why anyone would see them AS a privileged majority, as opposed to the entire "public". And, when this is pointed out, often whine about it, AS IF they were the victims).

Which is why we need Constitutional RIGHTS (e.g. the First Amendment's separation of Church&State), to protect minorities from everything a majority may happen to dig.

Being of a catholic temperament, I often love statues of Jesus . . . IN CHURCH (or in my home) where they belong.

JC Fisher

The phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the Constitution. It's most famous early example in American history is from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut who objected to having taxes pay for a Congregational parish. Congregationalism was the established religion in Connecticut. It received direct state support, whereas no other religion did.

Permitting a private party to use public land to set up a statue is not an establishment of religion so long as other religions are permitted the same privilege - which means that they have to get the money together to pay for such a statue (it was not built with public funds).

The Founders wanted to ensure that we wouldn't have one religion become part of the State, such as in England where the 26 most senior Bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords and where (at that time) the State persecuted members of other religions. But the Founders NEVER intended - and thought it would be ill advised - for the State to support religion overall. As long as the State doesn't grant privileges that it isn't willing to grant to others, it is not in violation of the First Amendment.

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Lionel, I do not see where the Constitution clearly states that religion must be invisible in public areas as long as one is not protected or condemned more than the rest. The gov't hasn't thought the statue was breaking the law for 60 years.
No one said whether we should destroy the sacred circles and paintings hereabouts. It's still public land. Interesting that Christians can find the statue so offensive. I presume you've all written your mayor to demand the city cease all public Christmas nativities/displays, carols, and angels, religious motifs and prayers on war memorials, battlefields, paintings in parks,courthouses, etc.

JCF, being a minority doesn't always make one automatically right or give the right to trample on the majority, anymore than being in the majority does. There can be abuses in both directions.

Chris Harwood

Like much of the Constitution, the establishment clause is imprecise and subject to interpretation. Making The Episcopal Church, say, an established church would be clearly unconstitutional. The courts have generally held that favoring one church over others or favoring religious people over non-religious people is likewise unconstitutional. The effect in particular instances is effectively the same as if one religion were, in fact, established. The statue in question is pretty aggressively Christian.

The argument that others are free to put up their own statues representing other religions is wrongheaded for two reasons. First, a Buddhist statue next to the statue supposedly celebrating the Tenth Mountain Division simply makes no sense. Second, creating situations in which non-favored religions are forced to spend money to prevent another religion from having a favored status on public land is fundamentally unfair.

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