Federal appeals court allows religious statue to remain on national forest land

Federal appeals court allows religious statue to remain on national forest land

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that a six-foot-tall statue of Jesus may remain on US Forest Service land. The Freedom From Religion Foundation [advocacy website] filed the suit claiming that the statue, located atop Whitefish Mountain in Montana, violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause [text; JURIST news archive]. The appeals court rejected this argument finding that the Forest Service’s decision to renew the statute “reflected a secular purpose” and that it “did not constitute an endorsement of religion.”

Religious displays on public property remain controversial under the First Amendment. In May the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] a Santa Monica, California, city ordinance prohibiting unattended exhibits, including Nativity scenes, in Palisades Park. Last year a judge for the US District Court for the District of New Mexico ruled that a New Mexico city must remove a Ten Commandments monument [JURIST report] placed outside of Bloomfield city hall. In May 2014 the US Supreme Court ruled that the practice of opening town meetings with a prayer [JURIST report] does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In 2011 the Supreme Court declined to rule on whether crosses placed beside highways as memorials to deceased Utah Highway Patrol troopers is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, allowing the August 2010 ruling [JURIST reports] by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which found found the display unconstitutional, to stand.