Press Release

Becket Fund Enters Ring Defending Montana Jesus Statue Reprimands Professional Bullies for Dishonoring Fallen Soldiers

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Becket Law, on behalf of the Knights of Columbus and several individual Knights, intervened to defend the Jesus war memorial statue near Whitefish, Montana, asking the U.S. District Court in Montana to vindicate the constitutional rights of Knights to honor soldiers who have given their lives for our country.

“I have tried to teach my children sincere love and respect for this country and those who defend it,” says Dr. Raymond Leopold, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, and member of the Knight of Columbus who has helped maintain the statute for the last 6 years.   “I know that members of our community have similar feelings about the statue and are proud to have it as one aspect of our community’s history and culture.”

 Nearly sixty years ago, the Knights of Columbus leased a 25-foot x 25-foot plot of land, which lies within a commercial ski resort, from the United States Forest Service on Big Mountain, to erect a monument honoring fallen soldiers from World War II.

 “The statue honors men who gave their lives in World War II in defense of freedom from tyranny,” says Dan Graves, President of Whitefish Mountain Resort.  “It’s a historical monument unique to Big Mountain.  Trying to erase that history, just because you have a different belief system, is wrong.”

 The permit has been renewed every ten years without incident until 2010, when the Freedom from Religion Foundation—a Wisconsin organization—threatened the Forest Service claiming the monument violated the United States Constitution. The Forest Service, buckling under pressure from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, initially denied the permit, but reconsidered after significant public outcry. In February, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued to have the statue permanently removed.

 “From their perch in Madison, Wisconsin, these professional bullies go around the country threatening government agencies and cities with lawsuits and financial ruin. Becket will not let them get away with it here,” says Eric Rassbach, attorney for the Knights. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has not identified any of its members who have actually seen or complained about the statue. “These soldiers died fighting for our freedom—it is unfortunate that the Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to annihilate their sacrifices from public memory.”

UPDATE:   On May 31, 2012, District Judge Dana L. Christensen issued an order allowing Becket, on behalf of the Knights of Columbus and several individuals, to intervene as defendants in this case. The judge reasoned that the current defendant, the U.S. Forest Service, “may not adequately represent the interests of the Knights of Columbus. In fact, the Forest Service initially declined to renew the special use permit.” The judge further stated, “the Court has no difficulty finding that the Knights of Columbus have a perspective that is socially and legally distinct from that of the Federal Defendants, and that the Federal Defendants may not adequately represent the interests of the Knights of Columbus in this matter, particularly as it relates to First Amendment issues.”

Becket Law is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. Becket has a 17-year history of defending religious liberty for people of all faiths. Its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law, and they recently won a 9-0 victory against the federal government at the U.S. Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.

For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Melinda Skea at or call 202.349.7224.