The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted the chief of the US Forest Service asking him to remove a Catholic shrine atop Whitefish Mountain, and overrule an underling's decision to take public comments on whether the federal government should host the religious display.
FFRF is a 17,000-member national state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with 100 members in Montana.
In a letter to Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor outlined the serious constitutional problems with the longstanding First Amendment violation.
Since the Forest Department claims to be interested in "public comment," Gaylor also attached pages of hostile emails which FFRF has received over the past few days from shrine supporters, "whose common refrain (besides spite and obscenity) is that only Christian believers have the right to live in the United States or visit Montana." Such intolerance is the inevitable consequence when the federal government improperly takes sides on matters which must be left to personal conscience. (Click here to read hate mail, or see excerpts at conclusion.)
In late May, FFRF called the Forest Service's attention to the unconstitutionality of its "leasing" arrangement with the Knights of Columbus. The federal agency has given the group a special use permit to place a Jesus staute on Big Mountain, near Whitefish, Mont., since the 1950s. After Forest Department officials in Montana made note of the constitutional concerns and let the lease expire, a Republican member of Congress from Montana has tried to turn the First Amendment violation into political football.
Immediately after criticism by Rep. Denny Rehberg-R-Montana, Forest Supervisor Chip Weber capitulated, and announced in an Oct. 21 news release that Flathead National Forest was withdrawing its decision not to renew the permit and will "formally seek public comment."
Gaylor noted that majority does not rule in "matters of personal conscience" and called the plans for a public comment period "politically motivated." Such comments would be "irrelevant, inappropriate and divisive" because "constitutional issues are not decided by popularity contests."
FFRF's letter notes that the Roman Catholic men's club appears to have paid nothing more than nominal application fees for the use of the 25x25-foot parcel of federal land for decades.
FFRF points out that the Special Use Permit itself records the unconstitutional purpose as: "to provide a site for a religious shrine." The lease map is titled "Knights of Columbus Shrine" and points to the statue's location via a tab marked "shrine."
The "war memorial" claim which shrine defenders have hastily conjured is a "sham," FFRF charges. There is no reference in the lease to a memorial, nor may the federal government erect a sectarian shrine as a memorial which promotes one religion's deity and excludes all non-Christians. Excluded are "the many 'atheists in foxholes' who have served our country with distinction and valor," FFRF wrote Tidwell. Courts have rejected such ruses, FFRF pointed out.
The hysterical reaction of the shrine defenders, who insist the shrine can't be moved in case it falls apart, is evidence that they regard the statue as a sacred relic, FFRF adds. The condition of the statue is the concern of the wealthy Knights of Columbus which has manufactured many such look-alive Jesus statues, Gaylor says, but it is not the concern of the federal government and does not supersede the Constitution.
The Flathead National Forest press release reports a bizarre claim by the Montana State Historical Preservation Office that "the site in question is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places."
Just because a violation is long-lasting does not diminish the violation, Gaylor says. Quite the contrary. To put this in perspective, she noted that she was born in November 1955, the same year the shrine was erected. Certainly 55-year-olds like herself are not "historic"!
FFRF says the wealthy Knights of Columbus can litter their extensive private landscape with Jesus shrines, but they overstep their rights when they appropriate federal property to broadcast their religious message.
Please take a moment to urge the Forest Department not to renew the Knights of Columbus lease. We have included both Chief Tidwell and Supervisor Weber's contact information (to save time send a joint email):
Tom Tidwell, Chief
US Forest Service
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington DC 20250-0003
Chip Weber, Forest Supervisor
Flathead National Forest
650 Wolfpack Way
Kalispell MT 59901
(Even one-sentence responses, especially if they include your full contact information, are effective. Feel free to use or paraphrase the following statement or any of the above message. If you happen to be a veteran please indicate that you feel excluded by the sham claim that this is a war memorial.)
The US Forest Service should not renew the unconstitutional leasing agreement with the Knights of Columbus to keep a Jesus "shrine" atop Big Mountain at Flathead National Forest. It is irresponsible to seek "public comment" instead of adhering to the Constitution.
Contact the State Historic Preservation Office to protest their intervention in a federal constitutional issue on the basis of a phony claim that a look-alike Jesus shrine is "historical":
Mark Baumler, Ph.D.
State Historic Preservation officer
State Historic Preservation Office 1410 Eighth Avenue Helena MT 59620 Phone:(406) 444-7715
Send a letter to the editor supporting removal of the shrine to Montana newspapers such as:
Independent Record (Helena):
The IR welcomes signed letters of all points of view. We publish all letters except those that are defamatory, in poor taste, contain significant inaccuracies, poetry, or are too long. Please limit letters to 200 words. Letters may be edited for clarity or length.
Send your letters to:
P.O. Box 4249
Helena, MT 59604
Writers must include their address and daytime phone for verification.
Read more: http://helenair.com/app/contact/#ixzz1bw5tpuiW
Letters should be 300 words or less. MUST include your real name, real address, phone number. While we welcome feedback from anyone, we only publish letters from within our print circulation area.
Phone: (406) 523-5215
Toll free: 1-800-366-7186
Fax: (406) 523-5294
Read more: http://missoulian.com/app/contact/#ixzz1bw5gmi58
Representative samples of messages (spelling, punctuation, etc., uncorrected):
"fuck you rotten bastards
don't come to montana"
"Are you people OUT of your 'F-in' Mind ? ? Are you that Stupid ? ? Jesus is the ONLY religion in this Country of the United States of America."
"KEEP YOUR MEDDLING, IDEALISTIC, LEFT WING FUCKING NOSES OUT OF MONTANA - WE DON'T TAKE KINDLY TO PEOPLE FROM OUTSIDE OUR WONDERFUL STATE TRYING TO PUSH THEIR CRAP ON US. GO THE FUCK AWAY!!"
"your idiots!!!!!!!!! when the flames of hell are on you I hope you remember what got you there."
"YOU ARE THE MINORITY, SO SHUT THE HELL UP DON'T PRAY LIVE YOUR LIFE AND LEAVE THE REST OF US AND OUR RELIGIONS ALONE. SURELY THERE IS ANOTHER COUNTRY YOU CAN MOVE TO IN WHICH YOU WILL NOT FEEL SO OFFENDED I''LL HELP YOU PACK!"
"One day you will go to far and the majority if Americans will cook your Butt"
"Your Honorary board are all a bunch of illiterate cum-suckingFuckingASSHOLES !! More people should express their disgust with your organization. We CAN make you go away, forever!!!"
"Why do you think that a statue on a mountain in Montana has anything to do with establishing a religion . . . You are the vile underbelly of the earth."
"Removing this statue of Jesus is a temporal thing. Revelation 19:11-16 says HE (JESUS) is going to come back."
"I'll try to pray for you and ask that The Lord will free you from satans' hands. Yes, he's REAL TOO!"
"Stay out of Montana!"
"Leave Montana and everything with it alone you assholes. And yes this isn't very Christian of me. Don't care, don't stick you nose where it doesn't belong."
"there are no atheists in foxholes idiot."
"Maybe you will think even clearer if I put my boot up your backside."
"I'm writing to you about the JESUS Statue in Montana How dare you!!! Our country was founded by Religion and GOD. Who do you think you are to take that away from the BELIEVERS. . . I see where they want to refurbish the Statue of Liberty what a joke spend all that money, BECAUSE WITHOUT GOD IN OUR LIVES WE ARE NOTHING!!!!"
"FUCK YOU ASSHOLES
"Send someone to my house so I can kick his fucking ass out of this country - you dumbcocksucking muthafuckingassholes!"
"You fucking assholes. Stay the hell out of montana. One of your members ever shows up here, they will never leave. They will be planted with the statue."
"Wow, how does it feel to be a traitor? That's what I consider FFR and ACLU and Other organizations like you should not be allowed to exist."