The response has been overwhelming. More than 70,000 concerned individuals are standing with us - in a letter urging the National Forest Service to renew a long-standing lease that would permit a World War II memorial - a statue of Jesus - to remain in place.
We're sending a letter today - along with the 70,000 names - to the federal government detailing why this display, which has been atop Big Mountain at the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana for nearly 60 years, is constitutionally permissible.
In our letter, posted here, we cite numerous Supreme Court and appeals court decisions that underscore the legal argument that the Montana display is constitutional. We argue that removal of the statue could actually convey disrespect for the brave soldiers it was meant to honor and send a signal that the government is not neutral, but actually hostile on matters of religion - something the Constitution specifically prohibits.
"The statue's history and purpose, its longevity, and its setting all support the conclusion that no reasonable observer could think that renewing the Knights of Columbus' special use permit would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion," the letter contends.
Here's the background. The statue of Jesus was put in place on Big Mountain in the 1950's by WW 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 to commemorate the service of local WW II veterans - a war memorial.
Now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) - an atheist group that has challenged the National Motto, the National Day of Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance - is challenging the display. The group called the Montana memorial "a ruse and a sham" and is urging the National Forest Service to end a long-standing lease - a move that would force the display to be removed. The government initially agreed with FFRF to end the lease. But a massive public outcry ensued, and the government put that decision on hold - reopening the issue to public comment.
We immediately focused on this issue and in less than a month more than 70,000 people signed on. A big thank-you to all who participated. What's clear is that this display is part of the history and heritage of that region for nearly six decades.
Our letter, also notes that the Montana Historical Society recognizes that the statue "has long been a part of the historic identity of the area" and remains "a local land mark" making it "a historic part of the resort."
For the federal government to succumb to the intimidation tactics of an organization with a flawed view of the Constitution is not only disturbing, but inappropriate as well. The law is clear: this statue does not create a constitutional crisis. The statue's setting does not convey any government religious endorsement of religion. It is a historically important memorial designed to commemorate the sacrifice made by those killed in World War II.
We are hopeful that the Forest Service renews the lease without delay and permits this long-standing display to remain in place.
This atheist attack in Montana comes as we continue to counter intimidation tactics being used by atheist groups in an attempt to pressure the Marine Corps to take down a cross memorial at Camp Pendleton and the U.S. Army's decision to remove a cross displayed outside a chapel at a military base in Afghanistan. Thousands already have signed on to our letter to the Department of Defense. If you haven't done so already, add your name now.
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