Whitefish Mountain is the latest place that seems to be chanting “we have been wrong so long, there is no need to be right”.
The whole situation reminds me of “Prom Night in Mississippi“, the documentary about the small town of Charleston Mississippi that had two segregated proms until 2008! That is right. The first integrated high school prom occurred in 2008 when Morgan Freeman, a former resident of Charleston, decided to fund the entire school prom, but only if black and white students could attend the same dance on the same night in the same place. Several students and parents were reticent about the idea, stating “we have always had separate proms and that is just fine.” But of course, it was not fine. There was a need to make the wrong right. It did not matter how long it was going on. Time was no excuse.
Which brings us back to Whitefish Mountain. It seems that 60 years ago, the Catholic Knights of Columbus plopped a garish European-style Jesus statute at the top of the hill. The statue was a result of American troops seeing similar (religious) statues in Europe (countries that do not believe in the separation of church and state!). The religious nature of the statue is made clear by the nearby plaque that reads, in part,
“We thank those brave troops that brought this special shrine of Christ to the Big Mountain and hope that you enjoy and respect it,”
Last year, a Montana member informed the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) of the violation. FFRF then filed a lawsuit stating that the statue does not belong on in a state park, given that the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that single religious icons do not belong on government-owned property. For example, here in Pittsburgh, the Christmas nativity scene outside the Allegheny County Courthouse was ruled illegal in 1989.
In a complex and fragmented decision, the majority held that the County of Allegheny violated the Establishment Clause by displaying a crèche in the county courthouse, because the “principle or primary effect” of the display was to advance religion.
Put another way, those that came to the courthouse to do their secular business of paying taxes were being confronted with a religious symbol that had no secular purpose.
Fast forward to 2013. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen decided that the Jesus statue on top of Whitefish Mountain was just fine.
Christensen said that the statue does not convey to a reasonable informed observer that the government, rather than a private party, endorses Christianity over any other faith or the absence of faith. The new federal judge, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011, said the statue is one of the last remaining remnants of the original Big Mountain Ski Resort and some locals say it reflects the transition from old timber town to tourist hotspot.
For many, Christensen said, the statue is mostly “a historical reminder of those bygone days of sack lunches, ungroomed runs, rope tows, T-bars, leather ski boots and 210 cm. skis.”
Whatever that means. Does he also want to bring back the bygone days of school prayer and segregated proms?
Until the Freedom From Religion Foundation protested, the judge said, the statue’s presence at the ski resort had gone unchallenged for approximately 60 years.
The statue’s 60 year life free of formal complaints also tips the scales in this case.
Not so fast, said Annie Laurie Gaylor of FFRF:
“The judge said the statue has no religious purpose, but the Knights of Columbus said they put it up to erect a shrine,” Gaylor said. “He turns the First Amendment on its head to claim a Jesus statue is not religious.”
The Judge is in effect saying that, like the segregated prom, it was there for 60 years without complaint; Like the nativity scene in Pittsburgh, it didn’t force a religion on anyone. However, the segregated prom was wrong. Pushing one religion with government nativity scene was wrong. And, the Jesus statue on Whitefish Mountain was wrong.
The picture below shows what the Judge could have recommended. To do any less, is pushing one religion on everyone. And, that is just plain wrong.