U.S. Forest Service's Renewal of Jesus Statue Permit Seen as Triumph Over Attempted Government Religious Viewpoint Discrimination
KALISPELL, Mont., Jan. 31, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, Liberty Institute announces a great victory for veterans, the Knights of Columbus, and the people of Flathead Valley, in Northwest Montana in a battle to protect a statue of Jesus from being removed from atop a ski resort on Big Mountain in Whitefish, MT. Following an outpouring of public support to keep the landmark, the U.S. Forest Service granted renewal of a half-century-old permit to maintain the statue on the 25-by-25 parcel, located on federal lands.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based organization, targeted the WWII Veterans Memorial earlier this year, objecting to the presence of any religious symbol on public property. In August, the U.S. Forest Service initially revoked the Knights of Columbus' long-time permit to maintain the statue on federal lands. Following uproar over that decision, the U.S. Forest Service asked for public comment, which closed on December 8. At that time, Liberty Institute, on behalf of the Knights of Columbus who oversees the memorial, submitted a letter brief to the U.S Forest Service defending the constitutionality of this statue.
"We are thankful that the U.S. Forest Service reversed its prior decision and renewed the permit, keeping the Jesus Statue where it belongs on Big Mountain," said Jeff Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute. "This decision honors the ultimate sacrifice of the Tenth Mountain Division for whom it was erected following their service during World War II, and is a clear victory for the First Amendment, which prohibits government discrimination against this historic veterans memorial simply because of its religious viewpoint."
In the 1950s, the local Kalispell Knights of Columbus erected the Jesus statue as a memorial to those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice in the Tenth Mountain Division during World War II. The Knights chose the Jesus statue in remembrance of the many religious shrines the Tenth Mountain Division encountered in the hills and mountains of Europe where they were engaged in battle. After World War II, Tenth Mountain Division soldiers who fought on skis brought back their love of skiing and gave birth to much of the modern-day ski industry.
In agreement with the Montana State Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Forest Service determined that the memorial is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Prior to FFRF's actions earlier this year, no one ever complained about the memorial. The Statue of Jesus endures as a popular tourist attraction to thousands, who come each year to visit the site.
Liberty Institute is a non-profit legal firm that works to restore and defend religious freedoms in schools, churches and the public arena. The group also represented over 4 million veterans from organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart in a case to protect the Mojave Desert War Memorial from being torn down by the ACLU, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled should stand. Visit www.LibertyInstitute.org for more information.
Liberty Institute attorneys are available to discuss its recent victory and the legal battle over the constitutionality of veterans memorials containing religious imagery on government property.
SOURCE Liberty Institute