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Jesus Statue Lawsuit: Atheist Group Seeks Removal of Statue from Montana Mountain

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Nov 30, 2012 10:17 AM EST

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A Jesus statue is at the center of a lawsuit in Montana. A National Atheist group demand the removal of a Jesus statue that sits on top of a mountain at a Montana ski resort. A local member of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation group claims that he is offended by seeing the statue when he visits the resort.

The Knights of Columbus fought back and asked the judge to throw out the claim because the atheist group didn't name anyone that was directly harmed by the statue which stands on federal land next to the Whitefish Mountain Resort, according to the Associated Press. 

To fight back at this claim, FFRF located member William Cox who lives 15 miles rom the resort. Cox said he frequents the ski resort and he is offended by the religious symbol.

The compaint, according to The Missoulian, reads:

"The plaintiff Cox is a frequent skier and he has skied past the statue of Jesus at issue in this case many times each winter," the complaint states. "Mr. Cox also plans to continue his skiing on Big Mountain in the future, including this winter, when he will again have exposure to the Jesus statue at issue. As a regular skier on Big Mountain, the plaintiff Cox has frequent and unwanted contact and exposure to the Jesus statue when he is skiing on Big Mountain many times each winter. Mr. Cox perceives the statue of Jesus to be a patently religious display which he finds to be offensive on public land. Mr. Cox perceives the Jesus statue to be a conspicuously Roman Catholic monument."

With this claim, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen had to ignore the Knights of Columbus' request and continue with the lawsuit. A trial will be held in March.

"I could just say, 'Hallelujah,"' Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation told the Associated Press. "It was very obliging of the judge to let it proceed."

The Knight of Columbus' attorney, Charlier Harball believes the atheist group wouldn't have produced a local person if the Knights didn't request that they deny the lawsuit.

"If we hadn't filed the motion in the first place, we still might not have an individual named," Harball told AP. "It's kind of forcing people to do what they're supposed to do."

Gaylor argues that this wasn't the case. She says FFRF didn't name a specific person because they wanted to protect them from receiving backlash from the community.

"We just want to deflect attention away from him. We're at least long distance. We know how heated it gets," Gaylor told AP.

The lawsuit was first filed in February. FFRF argued that the 57-year-old religious statue on federal land in unconstitutional.

The statue was the idea of World War II veterans who appreciated the site of similar statues when they were fighting in mountain regions of Europe. Several conservative and religious groups from around the area and beyond are defending the statue and arguing that it stands for the history and heritage of the area. 

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