Source, Lowering the Bar: Ninth Circuit: Big Mountain Jesus Can Stay Put
I don’t know another person other than Kevin Underhill on his Lowering the Bar who could soothe my sense of offense about a Jesus statute on a mountain and a federal appellate court decision that, despite a truly righteous lawsuit, will permit Jesus to stay on that mountain.
Here’s how Kevin Underhill opens his discussion:
If, like me, you assumed that “Big Mountain Jesus” was a DJ or band of some sort, you were incorrect, although that would in fact be a pretty great DJ or band name, if not 100% original. For now it refers only to a 12-foot-tall statue of Jesus that stands near Chairlift Two of the Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort in Montana. Because the statue is on federal property, it has been the focus of a dispute about whether allowing it there violates the principle of separating church and state. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to have it removed, but the Ninth Circuit has ruled that it can stay.
Okay, so I am amused about the band name stuff. But, hey Kevin, it seems clear that Jesus on federal property is indeed a violation of the First Amendment. It’s sort of like, hey the feds approve of Jesus so he can stay, even though Jesus has always been–as far as I know–a religious figure belonging to a certain set of religious beliefs which I, and numbers of people in this country, do not share.
Is the Ninth Circuit actually saying that the federal government is Christian?
After funny meanderings all over Big Mountain, Kevin continues:
Everybody agrees that it is intended to be a statue of Jesus, and that it is on federal property and has been for decades. Determining whether a government action or policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment requires a court to consider whether the action or policy has a predominantly secular purpose or has the effect of endorsing religion. Trunk v. City of San Diego, 629 F.3d 1099, 1106 (9th Cir. 2011). In Trunk, for example, the court held that a cross had to go; although it found the property had been acquired for a predominantly secular purpose, it decided that under the circumstances of that case, allowing the cross to stay where it was tended to endorse religion.
So why is Jesus given purchase on Big Mountain?
The majority also didn’t think that the circumstances here tended to show that the government was endorsing religion: it’s Jesus on a mountain, not on the capitol grounds; it’s privately owned; and locals see it as more of a landmark or meeting place than a religious shrine.
LAlso, the court noted, “the flippant interactions of locals and tourists with the statue suggest secular perceptions and uses: decorating it in Mardi Gras beads, adorning it in ski gear, … high-fiving it as they ski by, and posing [with it] in Facebook pictures.” An attorney for the Forest Service highlighted this point during oral argument, according to The Missoulian: not only do the locals treat it as a secular landmark, she noted, “it’s usually wearing a ski helmet.”
And yeah, take a look at the photo. So that’s why Jesus looks so, um, armored. He’s wearing a ski helmet and resting on a ski pole. But…
One judge dissented, and let me summarize his argument: it’s Jesus. The one from the Bible. A statue of Jesus on government property. Is this difficult?
Mardi Gras beads and ski gear notwithstanding, I’m with this judge. It’s not difficult.