On Tuesday, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) heralded a U.S. Forest Service decision to renew a lease for land housing a Jesus statue on a Montana mountain as "a significant victory." But just hours later, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an infamous church-state separatist group, announced that it will be suing to seek the removal of the statue's "unconstitutional" presence.
In a press release posted on the FFRF's web site, the group's co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, railed against the decision to allow the religious relic, which serves as a World War II memorial, and pledged to take the battle to the courts. The action to let it stay, she says, shows preference for Christianity and is unlawful.
"A federal agency should not hold a vote on whether to obey the Constitution!" said Gaylor. "The U.S. Forest Service has unlawfully misused federal land owned by all of us to further Christianity in general, and Roman Catholicism in particular. This diminishes the civil and political standing of nonreligious and non-Christian Americans, and shows flagrant governmental preference for religion and Christianity."
Yesterday, Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, had a very different opinion on the matter.
“This decision by the National Park Service represents a significant victory in defense of the history and heritage of the region,” Sekulow proclaimed. “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.”
The group has already prepared a legal complaint and it will soon be filed in Montana federal court. While the Forest Service initially agreed to remove the statue late last year, the decision was overturned upon massive public reaction. You can read more about the history of the debate here.
Now, it seems the courts will have to decide if leasing the land to the Knights of Columbus is a viable -- and legal -- choice.