Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Weber (Big Mountain Jesus)

For nearly sixty years, a statue of Jesus has stood atop the slopes of a ski resort near Whitefish, Montana, as a monument to soldiers who died defending our freedom in World War II. Today that monument is being threatened by a group from Wisconsin—The Freedom From Religion Foundation—that wants to scrub all religious symbols from society.

After World War II, soldiers from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division returning to western Montana sought to commemorate their fallen comrades with a monument that evoked memories of the religious shrines and statues they had seen in their battles through the mountains of Europe. To honor these soldiers, who had sacrificed so much for their country, the Knights of Columbus (Kalispell Council No. 1328) commissioned the statue of Jesus and applied to the United States Forest Service for a permit to place it on Big Mountain. Since 1954, the statue has stood passively on a 25’ x 25’ plot of Forest Service land, near the top of the Whitefish Mountain Resort—which also leases the plot and the surrounding land from the Forest Service for its ski slopes.

The Knights’ permit has been renewed every ten years without incident until 2010, when the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to sue the Forest Service for offending its supposed right to be free from seeing anything religious—even across the country in Montana. The Forest Service, buckling under pressure, initially denied the permit, but amidst public outcry, eventually recognized the statue’s historical and cultural significance to the local community. In February 2012, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued to have the statue permanently removed.

Just after Memorial Day, on May 31, 2012, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing the Knights of Columbus and several individuals who have voluntarily maintained the statue for nearly sixty years, joined the lawsuit, demanding that religious symbols be treated on fair grounds with other commercial, historical, and cultural symbols that abound on public land.

On June 24, 2013, the District Court ruled in favor of the Becket Fund and dismissed the case.

 

  • Media Essentials
  • Press Releases
  • Legal Documents
  • In the news
  • Video and Images

Top Press Releases:

  • Press Release, “Big Mountain Jesus” on Trial Before 9th Circuit (May 2, 2014)
  • Press Release, Win for Montana Jesus (June 24, 2013)
  • Press Release, Becket Fund Filed Motion to Dismiss (July 31, 2012)
  • Press ReleaseBecket Fund Enters Court to Defend Jesus Statue (May 30, 2012)

Top Legal Documents:

Additional Resources:

  • Press Release, “Big Mountain Jesus” on Trial Before 9th Circuit (May 2, 2014)
  • Press Release, Win for Montana Jesus (June 24, 2013)
  • Press Release, Becket Fund Filed Motion to Dismiss (July 31, 2012)
  • Press ReleaseBecket Fund Enters Court to Defend Jesus Statue (May 30, 2012)