May 7, 2014 6:28 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
KALISPELL - The State of Montana and other groups are coming to the support of the U.S. Forest Service in the ongoing legal fight to keep a statue of Jesus Christ at the summit of Big Mountain.
The statue was erected in the early 1950s by the Knights of Columbus on USFS land in memory of the Tenth Mountain Division soldiers who served in World War II. But just over two years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the permit for the statue claiming it was a violation of the constitutional.
FFRF lost its initial appeal when it was rejected by the Flathead National Forest supervisor, and then lost again when it filed suit in U.S. District Court. The group has since filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The State of Montana and the American Legion represented by Liberty Institute, a Texas-based religious legal group, are now filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Knights of Columbus and the USFS. The groups are asking the federal appeals court to uphold Judge Dana Christensen's ruling that the memorial is constitutional.
FFRF argues the six-foot statue is actually a religious shrine.
"I'm proud to stand with our veterans and protect their constitutional rights," said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. "For nearly sixty years, this memorial has honored the bravery and sacrifice of the Tenth Mountain Division soldiers during World War II. I think the overwhelming majority of Montanans and Americans would strongly oppose removing the memorial and all it represents."
"The removal of the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial would be an insult to Montana's Tenth Mountain Division veterans. It would also undercut The American Legion's ability to honor those who have and continue to serve in our nation's armed forces," said Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute General Counsel.
"Removing this memorial simply because it is a statue of Jesus is contrary to Supreme Court precedent in that it would be censorship of the Kalispell Knights' private speech," Mateer said.