THIS IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE LIBERTY INSTITUTE:
Kalispell, Montana, December 8, 2011 – Today, Liberty Institute, on behalf of the Knights of Columbus in Kalispell, Montana, submitted a notice and comment letter to the U.S. Forest Service in a battle to protect a statue of Jesus from being removed from atop a ski resort on Big Mountain in Whitefish, MT. Filed today, the letter asks the U.S. Forest Service to renew the Knights of Columbus' more than half-century-old permit to maintain the statue on the 25-by-25-foot parcel, located on federal lands used as a ski resort. The public can still voice comments about the future of the memorial through the end of the business day, Dec. 8.
The statue is the target of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based organization that objects to the presence of any religious symbol on public property. In August, the U.S. Forest Service revoked the Knights of Columbus' long-time permit to maintain the statue on federal lands, leased to the Whitefish Mountain Resort.
"It is a violation of the First Amendment for the government to deny the permit allowing this veterans memorial to remain where it has stood for over half a century," said Jeff Mateer, general counsel of Liberty Institute. "The government may not discriminate against this historic veterans memorial simply because of its religious content or because others demand the destruction of this memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice serving in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Instead, we should allow the veterans to honor their own as they see fit, free from harassment by those who seek only to tear down the memorial."
In 1955, the local Kalispell Knights of Columbus erected the Jesus statue as a monument to those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II. The Knights chose the Jesus statue in honor of the many religious shrines the 10th Mountain Division encountered in the hills and mountains of Europe when they were engaged in battle. After World War II, 10th Mountain Division soldiers who fought on skis brought back their love of skiing and gave birth to much of the modern-day ski industry.
"It seems appropriate for this memorial, dedicated to the 10th Mountain Division veterans who were our soldiers on skis, to be located on a ski slope used by many returning 10th Mountain Division veterans when they returned from World War II," said Mateer.
The U.S. Forest Service already determined, and the Montana State Historic Preservation Office agreed, that the monument is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Prior to FFRF's actions earlier this year, no one ever complained about the memorial. The Statue of Jesus has endured as a popular tourist attraction to thousands, who come each year to visit, wed and bury loved ones.
Liberty Institute is a non-profit legal firm that works to restore and defend religious freedoms in schools, churches and the public arena. The group also represented over 4 million veterans from organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart in a case to protect the Mojave Desert War Memorial from being torn down by the ACLU, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled should stand. Visit www.LibertyInstitute.org for more information.
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