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Monday, August 31, 2015

Big Mountain Jesus update

Back in March of 2014, I blogged about the Establishment Clause challenge brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against "Big Mountain Jesus."  Here's a picture I took, during my own trip to enjoy the great Montana snow:   

BMG picture 

Just as a reminder:  The statue was put up in 1953, by the Knights of Columbus as a memorial for members of the 10th Mountain Division.  As this news story reports:

The monument, which also included a plaque dedicated to the WWII soldiers, was built and maintained by private efforts. Every 10 years the permit for the monument was renewed with the Flathead National Forest.

The FFRF lost in the District Court.  Judge Dana Christensen wrote:

"To some, Big Mountain Jesus is offensive and to others it represents only a religious symbol," Chistensen wrote. "But the court suspects that most who happen to encounter Big Mountain Jesus, it neither offends nor inspires."

He said that to many the statue "serves as a historical reminder of those bygone days of sack lunches, ungroomed runs, rope tows, T-bars, leather ski boots, and 210 cm. skis."

Well, the Ninth Circuit's ruling is just in, and Big Mountain Jesus is safe again.  (The opinion is here:  Download SANFRAN-#160648-v1-Ninth_Circuit_Affirmance.)  Among the several factors that prompted the Court to conclude that the "endorsement test" did not require the statue's removal was this:  "the flippant interactions of locals and tourists with the statue suggest secular perceptions and uses: decorating it in mardi gras beads, adorning it in ski gear, taking pictures with it, high-fiving it as they ski by, and posing in Facebook pictures[.]"

Judge Pregerson dissented.

Posted by Rick Garnett on August 31, 2015 at 01:08 PM in Religion | Permalink


Is it too late to term this the "kitsch doctrine"?

Posted by: Sykes Five | Sep 1, 2015 11:29:52 AM

Isn't Mardi Gras a religious celebration?

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 31, 2015 4:17:44 PM

NPR covered things here: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/03/166429267/big-mountain-jesus-statue-divides-montanans

I agree with the dissenters in Salazar v. Buono, but realize that was a dissent -- the dissent here particularly is weak since it only briefly addresses the issue & doesn't explain how recent Supreme Court display cases fail to suggest this display is acceptable.

And, the cross there and other aspects of that case probably can be differentiated from this one. Overall, the majority here seems to be an accurate application of current doctrine. It would be a much closer case if this was in a courthouse or even on a statehouse law as a stand-alone display.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 31, 2015 2:50:31 PM

After all, we have so much Jesus around nowadays that he has ceased to be a religious symbol, just like "God" on our currency!

Posted by: Jimbino | Aug 31, 2015 1:13:43 PM

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