FFRF wants ski slope Jesus full review

FFRF will ask for a review by the entire panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals of a 2-1 decision Aug. 31 permitting a shrine to Jesus on federal land in Big Mountain, Montana. The case was filed on behalf of FFRF’s members, including more than 100 in Montana and those “who have had direct and unwanted exposure to the shrine.”

FFRF filed the federal lawsuit in 2012 over the Forest Service’s decision to renew a special permit whose stated purpose was to erect a “shrine to our Lord Jesus Christ” on federal property in the Rockies. The Knights of Columbus, a conservative Roman Catholic men’s club, has placed a devotional shrine on Big Mountain near Whitefish Mountain’s Resort Chair Two in Flathead National Forest, in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Judge John Owens, an Obama appointee, and N.R. Smith, a Bush appointee, wrote the majority opinion. Dissenting Judge Harry Pregerson, a Carter appointee, strongly demurred: “First, despite arguments to the contrary, a twelve-foot tall statue of Jesus situated on government-leased land cannot realistically be looked upon as ‘predominantly secular in nature.’

“Second, to determine the effect of the statue we ask whether ‘it would be objectively reasonable for the government action to be construed as sending primarily a message of either endorsement or disapproval of religion.’ I submit that a ‘reasonable observer would perceive’ the statue situated on government land “as projecting a message of religious endorsement.”

Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor called it a “sham” to pretend that a “giant Jesus” is secular, thereby ignoring the Knights of Columbus’ stated purpose. The Catholic men’s club has “leased” at no cost the prominent parcel of land on the federal ski slope to display its Catholic shrine.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen issued a ruling in June 2013 granting summary judgment for the defendants, which FFRF appealed.

Freedom From Religion Foundation