A statue of Jesus on U.S. Forest Service land in the mountains over a Montana ski resort could be evicted as out-of-state groups advocating for the separation of church and state, have applied pressure on the Forest Service.
AP reports that the Forest Service gave supporters a small victory by withdrawing its initial decision to boot the Jesus statue from its perch above Whitefish Friday, but the agency warns that “court decisions are stacked against allowing a religious icon on federal land.” Montana Rep. Deny Rehberg has strongly advocated that the Forest Service reconsider its original denial to renew the lease, in order to preserve the popular WWII memorial.
Supporters tout the statue’s significance to the area since its placement in the 1950s, and popularity among skiers passing the statue on the mountain top.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based, Freedom From Religion Foundation argues that the icon cannot be on public land, and is pushing the Forest Service to stand by its decision to remove the statue by next year.
The Billings Gazette writes that Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber announced that he had withdrawn an earlier decision to deny a special-use permit for the statue, based off new information that the statue may be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gazette notes that overwhelming support has been shown for the statue from members of the public.
A representative for the Whitefish Mountain Resort told the Gazzette that the announcement that the denial to renew the statue’s lease on the public land had been withdrawn came as “welcome news to everyone on the mountain.”
“The statue and its location have significance to us historically. Our guests really enjoy it, so we are pleased to hear the news,” said resort spokeswoman Riley Polumbus.
The special-use permit that originally allowed a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus to install the memorial was granted in 1953. The KOC installed the statue as a memorial to local veterans of World War II.
Local KPAX video on the controversy: