The Freedom From Religion Foundation has issued a formal request to the US Forest Service to uphold its original decision to deny the Knights of Columbus renewal of a special use permit for the Jesus shrine atop Big Mountain in Flathead National Forest.
FFRF is a 17,000-member national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with 100 members in Montana. The Foundation has been involved with the "Jesus shrine" case since May 2011. The US Forest heeded FFRF's advice and chose not to renew the permit this summer.
Designating the shrine as a phony "war memorial" or historical place, as well as proposing legislation to "swap" the public land the shrine is on for private land is unnecessary and in direct violation of the Constitution.
"The U.S. Forest Service erred greatly in 1953 when it granted a special use permit to the Knights of Columbus 'for the purpose of erecting a religious shrine overlooking the Big Mountain ski run.' It is long overdue for that constitutional mistake to be remedied. As Mr. Weber noted in his original Aug. 24 letter of denial to the Knights of Columbus: 'The original stated purpose for the statue was to establish a shrine, an inherently religious object. Furthermore, the statue and its religious objective can be accommodated on adjacent private land,'" wrote Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
The National Register Criteria for Evaluation requires that in order to qualify for a Historical Place classification, properties "are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history." The "Criteria Considerations" specifically bars "properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes."
The shrine continues to symbolize religion, despite claims that its sole purpose is as a war memorial. Further evidence of the religious meaning is provided by the thousands of shrine supporters who maintain that removal of the shrine would be a blow to Christians everywhere, not veterans.
"Senate candidate Denny Rehberg has created a website, 'www.veteransjesus.com,' revealing the clear religious significance, and its exclusion of non-Christian veterans," FFRF's letter noted. "The flood of hate mail that FFRF has received, with such comments as 'Jesus is the ONLY Religion in this Country of the United States of America,' are demonstrative of the shrine’s predominate religious significance."
The statue does not have any connection to the founding of the ski hill and lacks artistic merit, as it is one of countless others created from a mold and placed on lawns across the country by the Knights of Columbus.
"The shrine sits on federal land leased to a Roman Catholic men’s club, the express purpose being 'to erect a Statue of our Lord Jesus Christ.' (1953 Permit Application). We think the obvious answer is for the Knights of Columbus to arrange to move the shrine to privately owned land at the resort, or other local private property," wrote Gaylor.
New York Times, Legal Battle Ignites Over Jesus Statue in Montana: http://nyti.ms/u2ZskL.
Official Comment Period
If you have not already participated in the public comment period, please take a moment to chime in (ending date, Dec. 8, 2011).
U.S. Forest Service
Please include “Knights of Columbus Special Use Permit Reauthorization Project” in the subject line. Emailed comments will be confirmed by return email. Only the first email from each sender will receive an email confirmation.
Mailed and faxed comments should be addressed to Project Leader Derek Milner, Tally Lake Ranger District, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901; fax to (406) 758-5367.
Comments previously submitted, including by phone, will also be considered. All comments become part of the public record, and the comments, as well as the submitter’s name and address may be available for public review, in accordance with applicable law.
Click here to view FFRF's previous press release for more information and talking points.