Forest Service: Jesus Statue Stays on Mountain

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The National Forest Service has decided to allow a statue of Jesus Christ to stay in place on Big Mountain at the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana.

The statue was erected in the 1950s by World War II veterans who were also members of the Knights of Columbus.

The veterans were inspired by monuments they saw in the mountains of Europe during the war. The statue of Jesus, they said, was put in place as a war memorial to commemorate the service of local WWII veterans.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group, challenged the display, demanding that the National Forest Service remove the statue.

The American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., represented more than 70,000 individuals who support the war memorial.

"This decision by the National Forest Service represents a significant victory in defense of the history and heritage of the region," Jay Sekulow, ACLJ's chief counsel, said.

"We're delighted that federal officials understood what we have argued all along -- that this statue of Jesus does not convey any government religious endorsement of religion. Instead, this historically important memorial is designed to commemorate the sacrifice made by those killed in World War II," he explained.

On Wednesday the USDA Forest Service issued a statement agreeing to keep the statue in place and renewing its permit for 10 more years. The statement acknowledged that the statue represents an important part of the history and heritage of the region.

"I understand the statue has been a long-standing object in the community since 1955, and I recognize that the statue is important to the community for its historical heritage, based on its association with the early development of the ski area on Big Mountain," Chip Weber, supervisor of the Flathead National Forest said.

He noted that the statue's historic value and eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places is in part directly linked to the current location of the statue.

Weber also said the USDA Forest Service received approximately 95,000 comments about the memorial.

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