Big Mountain Jesus has stood atop Whitefish Mountain Resort since 1954, and in a legal battle that at least feels like it's been going on a similar amount of time, the six-foot statue got another vote of confidence. This time it was the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that voted, 2-1, to let the Big Guy hang out despite protests that it is totally not chill by the First Amendment. The court's reasoning? This Jesus, contrary to your Sunday School stories, is not primarily a religious figure. Tourists treat Big Mountain Jesus as an oddity of the resort, taking less-than-reverent photos with the statue. And while it sits on public land, the inscription makes clear it wasn't paid for with Uncle Sam's money or even with any sort of affirmative endorsement. But of course this isn't the last we'll hear of Big Mountain Jesus; the group behind the push to take the statue down plans to appeal to the full court. Big Mountain Jesus or no, we've got some issues with these judges' decision.
As Whitefish isn't our home mountain, we're not inclined to wade onto the waters about Big Mountain Jesus, but we have some thoughts on skiing.
From the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' opinion:
Our determination is based on the following: (1) there is nothing in the statue's display or setting to suggest government endorsement; the twelve-foot tall statue is on a mountain, far from any government seat or building, near a commercial ski resort, and accessible only to individuals who pay to use the ski lift; Sometimes we choose to earn our turns, your honor.
(3) besides the statue's likeness, there is nothing in the display or setting to suggest a religious message. The mountain's role as a summer and winter tourist destination used for skiing, hiking, biking, berry-picking, and site-seeing suggests a secular context; the location "does not readily lend itself to meditation or any other religious activity," and the setting "suggests little or nothing of the sacred," Van Orden, 545 U.S. at 702 (Breyer, J., concurring in the judgment); Is Gaia not sacred? And actually, there are quite a few mountain resorts where communing with the spiritual — including mainstream Christianity and belief systems like Baha'i — occupies a weekly time slot and space.
That's all we got. Till next time, Big Mountain Jesus!
· FFRF seeks en banc review over Jesus shrine on Big Mountain [Curbed Ski]
· 9th Circuit Approves Ski Slope Jesus Statue on Government Land [BJCOnline]
· Federal government's allowing Big Mountain Jesus statue on federal land in Montana doesn't violate the Establishment Clause [Washington Post]
· Future of Whitefish Mountain's Jesus Statue in Hands of Court [Curbed Ski]
· Lawsuit Over Whitefish Jesus Statue Proceeds with Local Atheist [Curbed Ski]
· From Volcanoes to Jesus, 8 Bizarre Things You Can Ski To [Curbed Ski]