There is a statue of a skiing Jesus at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont. The statue, a memorial to World War II veterans that has resided on federal land since 1995, was evicted by the U.S. Forest Service a year ago. That move led to protests from religious groups and Montana’s congressman.
Forest Service supervisor Chip Weber said the revised decision took into account that the statue is eligible for placement on National Register of Historic Places, and that no substantive concerns related to environmental conditions were found in about 95,000 comments received by the agency.
The latest decision renews a 10-year special-use permit for the Knights of Columbus Council, members of which placed the statue there.
“I understand the statue has been a long-standing object in the community since 1955, and I recognize that the statue is important to the community for its historical heritage based on its association with the early development of the ski area on Big Mountain,” Weber said.
Of course, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims that the statue’s presence on federal land is a blatant violation of the separation of church and state, isn’t pleased with the issuance of a new special-use permit. Annie Laurie Gaylor, the organization’s co-president, called the permit a “sham.”
A lawsuit challenging the decision can be expected. And I don’t think that supporters can lean too much on the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision upholding the constitutionality of the mojave cross—since stolen—which was heavily tied to the facts of that case and, in my opinion, was not the watershed moment that proponents of religious symbols on public land wanted it to be.
So how will this one turn out?