Ain’t nothing sacred about this Jesus
Although it was originally planted as a religious shrine at a Montana ski resort by the Catholic Knights of Columbus, ‘Big Mountain Jesus’ cannot be regarded as a sacred symbol because folk treat it as a figure of fun.
That’s the verdict of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which yesterday ruled that the 12-foot statue, which stands on publicly owned land controlled by the National Forest Service, does not violate the constitutional separation of church and state. By a 2-1 vote, the court held that the statute does not imply a government endorsement of religion.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which filed the lawsuit, has announced its intention to seek review from the entire 9th Circuit.
The court found that the ski slope is tourist destination used for skiing, hiking, biking, berry-picking, and site-seeing.
This suggests a secular context; the location does not readily lend itself to meditation or any other religious activity and the setting suggests little or nothing of the sacred.
The flippant interactions of locals and tourists with the statue suggest secular perceptions and uses: decorating it in mardi gras beads, adorning it in ski gear, taking pictures with it, high-fiving it as they ski by, and posing in Facebook pictures.
This is the second “Big Mountain Jesus” setback for the Freedom of Religion Foundation. Back in 2013 US District Judge Dana Christensen ruled that, by permitting the statue, the US Forest Service was not reflecting government endorsement of a religious sect, or a preference for religion over non-religion.
This outraged Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation , who said at the time:
The judge said the statue has no religious purpose, but the Knights of Columbus said they put it up to erect a shrine. He turns the First Amendment on its head to claim a Jesus statue is not religious.
This time round Gaylor said it was “phony” and a “sham” to pretend that a “giant Jesus” is secular, thereby ignoring the Knights of Columbus’ stated purpose.
The Catholic men’s club has ‘leased’ at no cost the prominent parcel of land on the federal ski slope to display its Catholic shrine. That means federal taxpayers are subsidizing religious speech, in this case Catholic
She added that devout religionists should be offended at a decision that purports that a sacred image of a god is not religious.