Posted: Apr 4, 2013 11:00 AM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
MISSOULA - The parties fighting over the statue of Christ on Big Mountain are still waiting for a federal judge to decide whether the case will go to trial, or be settled without a hearing.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is fighting the U.S. Forest Service's decision to renew the permit for the small statue that was placed on the summit of Big Mountain in the early 1950s.
The Knights of Columbus maintain the statue was erected to honor veterans who served in World War 2. But FFRF argues it's actually a religious shrine and shouldn't be allowed on federal property.
The lawsuits were filed last year, and at one point it appeared the matter would be headed to a trial last month. However, the U.S. Forest Service, supported by the other defendants, has asked the court to grant a motion for summary judgment.
The U.S. Forest Service argues in its brief that, "the statue does not reflect a government endorsement of any religious sect or a governmental preference for religion over non-religion" or "any particular religious faith over any other faith" or "the absence of faith".
The U.S. Forest Service argues it had a "legitimate secular purpose" in renewing the permit because the Jesus statue has had a "long and significant historical association with the Whitefish Mountain Resort and the surrounding community."
The defendants also argue Freedom From Religion lacks "standing" to challenge the permit.
However FFRF has argued the suit was filed on behalf of its members in Montana, and others around the country who have an interest in the federal property.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor tells MTN News at this point the parties are waiting to hear a decision on the motion for summary judgment to see how the case will proceed.