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

For more than 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, Becket Law, representing the Knights of Columbus and several individuals who have voluntarily maintained the statue for more than 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 Becket Law and dismissed the case. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument on July 7, 2015. After we prevailed in the district court, the Freedom from Religion Foundation appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral argument there took place on July 7, 2015.

On August 31, 2015, the Ninth Circuit agreed with Becket Lawthat “Big Mountain Jesus” can remain standing.

Freedom From Religion Foundation’s window to appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision passed on February 18, 2016, leaving the 60-year war memorial in place for good.

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Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Briefs:

Motion to Dismiss:

Intervening Legal Documents: