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From The New York Times :

DENVER — They call him Big Mountain Jesus: a six-foot statue of Christ, draped in a baby blue robe and gazing out over the majestic Flathead Valley from his perch along a ski run at the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana.

He has been there for more than 50 years, erected by the local Knights of Columbus chapter in honor of the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who told of seeing similar shrines in the mountains of Italy during World War II.

These days, though, Whitefish’s Jesus statue is at the center of an increasingly bitter battle over the legality of such symbols on federal land.

An atheist group says that because Big Mountain Jesus stands on United States Forest Service property, it is in violation of the constitutional principle separating church and state.

After receiving a complaint about the statue in the spring, the group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, has been urging the Forest Service not to reauthorize the Knights’ special-use permit for the memorial, which is up for renewal.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the group. “A violation doesn’t become less egregious because it’s gone on a long time.” Ms. Gaylor said she would have no problem if the statue stood on private property.

[read the rest of the article here]


“The case can be made that the great social and political devastations of our [20th] century have been perpetrated by regimes of militant secularism, notably those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. That is true, and it suggests that the naked public square is a dangerous place. When religious transcendence is excluded, when the public square has been swept clean of divisive sectarianisms, the space is opened to seven demons aspiring to transcendent authority. As with a person so also with a society, the last condition is worse that the first. Nonethesless, the awareness of this truth does not alleviate our anxiety about forces that, no matter how much they deny it, seem bent upon establishing something like a theocracy.” (8-9)

Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1986)

I rarely engage Church/State arguments or anything having to do with the First Amendment, because I do not believe therein lie my gifts. However, I do think there is a danger in the Church conceding the “public square” of society to the State, as if the Church never belonged there in the first place, or that the State was the sum wishes or hopes of that society.

The Church (i.e., the sacramental body of individual members professing the Crucified Jesus as Lord in a society) is a political body and thus should be allowed to express herself as such.

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