Friday, July 17, 2020
I have blogged a few times, over the years, about the "Big Mountain Jesus" statue at Whitefish ski resort (a great place, BTW) in Montana. I'm very sorry to share the news that the statue was vandalized last weekend. I hope this latest attack will be, in the long run, no more successful than the failed efforts to have it removed as an Establishment Clause violation. Here's a little bit, from a First Things piece I did a while back, about the statue:
Whitefish Mountain, a ski resort in northwest Montana, is known for its spicy terrain, rime-clothed “snow ghosts,” and postcard-perfect views of Glacier National Park. And, of course, for “Big Mountain Jesus.”
Big Mountain Jesus is a kitschy but beloved dashboard-ornament-style six-foot-tall statue standing on a six-foot-tall stone pedestal near the summit of one of Whitefish’s peaks. It was erected in 1955 by some local Knights of Columbus who had served in Italy during World War II with the 10th Mountain Division and remembered fondly the statues and shrines that were ubiquitous in the Apennines and Alps. Because Whitefish and the statue are on leased public lands, and the Knights’ permit has to be reauthorized by the United States Forest Service every ten years, the enterprising secularizers at the Freedom from Religion Foundation eventually, and predictably, made a federal case out of Big Mountain Jesus, claiming among other things that it “excludes all the brave Jews and atheists that fought in World War II.”
The statue survives, for now, notwithstanding the lack of any accompanying, equal-time-supplying idols or icons. The federal judge assigned to the case noted that “[t]o some, Big Mountain Jesus is offensive and to others it represents only a religious symbol. But the court suspects that for most who happen to encounter Big Mountain Jesus, it neither offends nor inspires.” Instead, the memorial “serves as a historical reminder of those bygone days of sack lunches, ungroomed runs, rope tows, t-bars, leather ski boots, and 210 cm skis.” The relevant U.S. Court of Appeals took the auspices and then agreed, duly reporting that Big Mountain Jesus has a “secular purpose” and—because “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, taking pictures with it, high-fiving it as they ski by, and posing in Facebook pictures”—the statue does not “endorse” Christianity.