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'Big Mountain Jesus' statue can remain atop ski slope

June 25, 2013 at 4:04 PM

MISSOULA, Mont., June 25 (UPI) -- A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Montana group that's maintained a monument to slain soldiers that includes a Jesus statue on a public ski slope.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Mont., said the Big Mountain Jesus monument, which was built on a plot of public land leased by the Knights of Columbus nearly 60 years ago, is not merely a religious symbol. The monument and its Jesus statue are a reminder of days past for locals who have been skiing the mountain for generations.

"Unquestionably, Big Mountain Jesus is a religious symbol commonly associated with one form of religion," Christensen wrote in his decision. "But not every religious symbol runs afoul of the establishment clause of the United States Constitution. ... Big Mountain Jesus is one of the only vestiges that remains of the early days of skiing at Big Mountain, and to many 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."

An atheist group Freedom From Religion filed suit when the plot of land leased by the Knights where the monument sits was up for renewal, The Missoulian said Tuesday.

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