Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
(Read the original story here: Atheists Attack “Big Mountain Jesus” Memorial to Fallen American WWII Soldiers)
August 31 officially became a momentous day for the Whitefish, Mont. area and beyond.
“Big Mountain Jesus,” the historical World War II memorial, will remain solidly on its plot of ground in the Flathead National Forest high on Big Mountain. So went decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that the memorial statue can stay just where it is on the ski slope.
Once again, the attack by a Wisconsin-based militant atheist group which fought to have the statue removed was repelled by yet another high court.
“Today’s decision rejects the idea that history and the First Amendment ought to be enemies,” said Eric Baxter, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s senior counsel. The Becket Fund defended the statue.
“Freedom from Religion Foundation wanted to use the First Amendment to erase Big Mountain Jesus from memory, even though it is, as the Court recognized, a crucial part of the history of Montana,” Baxter continued in a news release. “Thank goodness for common sense.”
Raymond Leopold, one of the four Knights of Columbus who were intervenor-defendants in the case and who sees the significance of Big Mountain Jesus as a memorial, told me they all were thrilled by the decision.
“Our prayers have been answered,” Leopold said to me just hours after the decision was handed down. “The other side can do what they want to do, and we’ll keep fighting. But we hope it ends right here.”
Leopold saw the decision as a double blessing. “We’re happy the ruling came up so quickly,” he explained. “We didn’t expect it until October. But it came out do early, so this is the second blessing.”
In the statement the Becket Fund released right after the decision, Baxter reflected on the court’s decision.
“Does a statue standing alone in the forest establish an official state religion?” he said. “Today the Ninth Circuit emphatically said no. The Court rightly rejected Freedom from Religion Foundation’s radical idea that a privately-owned memorial standing in the middle of a ski resort violates the Constitution.”
Leopold, who is the spokesman for the Knights intervenors, said the Big Mountain Jesus has been in place on that pedestal and small plot of ground since he was eight years old. Previous to this there had never been any controversy since it was erected in 1954. The people who saw it liked it.
“We pointed out both in the lawsuit and my interviews we have rights too. We can’t just have people stepping over us,” he said. “The case was pretty clear, and by all rights we came out on the right side of this.”
He emailed to thank friends who had been praying for this decision, and then he and Gene Thomas, one of the other interveners who with Leopold does the annual maintenance of the statue, began talking right away about getting Big Mountain Jesus ready for the winter, repairing chipped paint and fixing the thumb someone broke off.
“We’re very happy,” Leopold reflected in tone full of joy. “It’s nice to win one now and then.”