Avid skier William Cox enjoys hitting the slopes at Montana's Whitefish Mountain Resort at Big Mountain. He doesn't enjoy the six-foot tall statue of Jesus that overlooks the ski run, so he joined a lawsuit to have it removed.
Mr. Cox, an atheist, lives in the area and visits the resort regularly. He views the statue of Jesus as a Roman Catholic monument of religious nature and says it should not be displayed on federal land. Although the statue has stood on the 25' x 25' site for more than half a century, Cox believes it violates his rights.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)originally filed the lawsuit last February, claiming the placement of the statue is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Named as defendants in the suit are the U.S. Forest Service, members of the local Knights of Columbus who maintain the statue and lease the land, and Chip Weber, the National Forest Supervisor who issued a special use permit that allowed the statue to stay.
The Knights of Columbus filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the lawsuit failed to name anyone who had been directly harmed by the statue, prompting the FFRF to name Cox. The revised complaint named a few more skiers and FFRF members, saying that because of the Jesus statue, they had "altered their conduct" in order to avoid Big Mountain.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen will consider Cox's testimony as relevant to the case, saying he had sufficient standing as plaintiff in his own right, even without the FFRF.
Because of strong public support in favor of the statue, the Forest Service reauthorized the special-use permit last year.
Some argue that it's more than a religious symbol – it's a representation of the history of the region. After World War II, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division spoke of the shrines they saw in Italy, inspiring the local Knights of Columbus to erect the Jesus statue in their honor.