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Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Weber

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20161
Nos. 13-35770, (9th Cir., 08/31/2015)

The Ninth Circuit held that the U.S. Forest Service's continued authorization of a 6-foot-tall Jesus statue on national forest land overlooking a northwestern Montana ski resort does not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The statue, known as "Big Mountain Jesus," was placed on the site over 60 years ago as a memorial to WWII soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the Alps of Italy. Despite arguments to the contrary, the Forest Service's decision to renew the permit reflected a primarily secular purpose, including the statue's cultural and historical significance for veterans, Montanans, and tourists as well as its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Nor does the Forest Service's permit authorization constitute an endorsement of religion. The statue is located far from any government seat or building, is accessible only to individuals who pay to use the ski lift, and the statue's plaque communicates that it is privately owned and maintained. And other than the statue's likeness, there is nothing in the display or setting to suggest a religious message.