The monument is also a local landmark:
“People say, ‘Meet at Jesus at 11.’ Skiers take pictures with him, wrap him up in clothing and put Mardi Gras beads on him.”Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation says: “It’s terribly important that the religious right not be allowed to manipulate this situation.” (But her organization picked the fight!)
Here's the “Save Big Mountain Jesus Statue” Facebook page, which links to this article that pre-dates the current controversy:
“I was out on the mountain, kind of exploring,” [Dan Graves] recalled, taking a break from work last week to recount his first encounter with the statue. “Of course, through the fog and the haze, I saw Christ, with his outstretched hands.”So the placement in the landscape heightens the spirituality of the encounter with the religious symbol, but I think removing the statue is not necessary to comply with the Establishment Clause. I go back to what Justice Breyer wrote in one of the 10 Commandments cases that the Supreme Court decided in 2005. Breyer — it's important to note — was the only member of the Court in the majority in both cases.
“It was a little surreal,” Graves added.
Anyone who skis or hikes or bikes along Big Mountain’s slopes has likely had a similarly jarring encounter: coming around a bend near the top of Chair 2 to find the life-like concrete rendering of Jesus Christ, gazing out over Whitefish Lake and the Flathead Valley beyond, from a perch above where the trail splits into Ed’s Run, Hibernation and Hellroaring.
Justice Breyer quoted the 1963 school prayer opinion written by Justice Goldberg: "[U]ntutored devotion to the concept of neutrality can lead to invocation or approval of results which partake not simply of that noninterference and noninvolvement with the religious which the Constitution commands, but of a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious."
And Breyer concluded that taking down the old stone monument in Texas would "exhibit a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions" and "encourage disputes concerning the removal of longstanding depictions of the Ten Commandments from public buildings across the Nation," which would "create the very kind of religiously based divisiveness that the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid."
Big Mountain Jesus is a 50-year-old part of the landscape, so it's probably a good idea to take Justice Breyer's advice seriously and ski clear of divisiveness and a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular.