The U.S. Forest Service has reversed its decision to remove a World War Two memorial from Montana’s Big Mountain because it included a statue of Jesus.
The Forest Service said it will re-authorize a permit for the 57-year-old statue after facing a firestorm of outrage from religious groups and local residents. The agency received more than 90,000 comments on the issue.
“We are thankful that the U.S. Forest Service reversed its prior decision and renewed the permit, keeping the Jesus statue where it belongs on Big Mountain,” said Jeff Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute, a conservative legal advocacy group. “This decision honors the ultimate sacrifice of the Tenth Mountain Division for whom it was erected following their service during World War Two, and is a clear victory for the First Amendment, which prohibits government discrimination against this historic veteran’s memorial simply because of its religious viewpoint.”
Forest Service supervisor Chip Weber told the Associated Press that the decision to renew a 10-year special-use permit took into account that the statue “is important to the community for its historical heritage.”
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, told Fox News & Commentary the decision was an “easy call.”
“We were shocked that anybody would be offended by that,” Sasser said. “There’s a lot of controversy about religious items that are on government property but this is very different because this is private speech of an organization that was allowed by the government to put the statue on the land.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation complained about the statue last spring. They plan to sue the federal government.
“A federal agency should not hold a vote on whether to obey the Constitution!” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.
“The U.S. Forest Service has unlawfully misused federal land owned by all of us to further Christianity in general, and Roman Catholicism in particular,” she said. “This diminishes the civil and political standing of nonreligious and non-Christian Americans, and shows flagrant governmental preference for religion and Christianity.”
With reporting from Associated Press