Jesus Statue on Big Mountain – Religious Controversy in Whitefish, MT

By DAVE SKINNER, for the Flathead Beacon

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) wants our Jesus statue on Big Mountain gone? Um, I beg to differ.

Founded in 1978, FFRF enjoys IRS 501(c)3 tax-exemption, under Category x20 as a “Religion, Spiritual Development (Christian)” organization.

FFRF headquarters, a former rectory, is located in a city famous for its progressive civility: Madison, Wis. According to the Madison Isthmus, the so-called “Freethought Hall” is only two blocks from the state capitol, although the exact “location is not publicized and the doors remain locked.”

FFRF is a family business, with 2008 gross revenues of $2 million. Daughter and co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor draws $69,374 as “co-president.” She met husband and co-president Dan Barker (salary $69,976), a charismatic preacher-turned-atheist, on Oprah’s talk show in 1984 (before Oprah was Oprah). Mom and co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor was a feminist abortion activist who had major issues with the Catholic Church (Knights of Columbus is a Catholic service organization). At age 85, Mom’s still on the FFRF payroll as a $25,836 per year “consultant.”

FFRF strives to “keep church and state separate and to educate the public about nontheism.” FFRF spent $156,000 on lawsuits “challenging entanglement of church and state” – entanglements like school Christmas pageants, “In God We Trust,” the National Day of Prayer, war memorials, nativity scenes, Bush’s “faith-based initiatives,” et cetera.

A bit over a half-million went to promotion/advocacy. Membership dues ($40) brought in about $620,000 from around 15,500 members (FFRF claims 16,000). But FFRF gets most of its income from grants and contributions, probably member bequests (I couldn’t find a single foundation that dared confess a contribution).

“Under God” Pledge of Allegiance plaintiff Michael Newdow is an honored member as is the dying Brit leftie-then-rightie-always-radical Christopher Hitchens.

These “nontheists” call themselves “freethinkers.” Well, if you think militant religionists are rigid, judgmental and intolerant of nonbelievers, check out FFRF’s charming newsletter.

And get this – as part of their outreach, actually a form of evangelizing, FFRF has an “Out of the Closet” campaign, encouraging the creation of “virtual billboards:” Your “Godless quote goes here” with your name and mugshot. A sample is this freethinking gem from Dan Barker: “I just lost faith in faith.”

Compare that to FFRF’s May 26 letter to the Forest Service “on behalf of a concerned area resident and taxpayer, and other Montana members.” Um, will our concerned hero post a billboard with “I Kicked Jesus off Big Mountain!,” a happy face, and a name?

Our Jesus was erected in 1953 by the Knights of Columbus as a memorial to those of the Tenth Mountain Division who never got the chance to enjoy another powder day. They died or were wounded fighting against Nazi Germany, which slaughtered 6 million Jews simply because they were Jews.

Now, if our armed forces had failed, including the Tenth, would there be a ski area? Probably not. A statue? Of Hitler, maybe. One sure-as-hell thing: There wouldn’t be an FFRF.

Never mind that Tenth troopers are fighting today in Afghanistan against the same Islamofascist madmen that Hitchens gets overpaid to scribble about. Too many won’t come home. Are “freethinkers” allowed to think about that?

While I’m as secular as can be, feeling humble, lucky and grateful once in a while is a good thing – on a powder day, it’s even better.

Wow … what’s next? Will FFRF sue Montana to have all our roadside crosses removed? Perhaps rather than piddle around with a statue, FFRF should demonstrate the true courage of their convictions. How about filing a lawsuit to chisel all the crosses out of the grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery? Or demanding the UN rip all the crosses out of the ground at Omaha Beach?

Push comes to shove, I expect a rider in Congress authorizing a sale of the lease plot at fair market. Then it will be up to FFRF to sue, alleging such Congressional action violates the First Amendment’s “Congress shall make no laws” Establishment Clause.

Whatever happens, Jesus stays – to remind us all that some things are worth fighting for.

Dave Skinner is a Flathead Valley Resident and frequently lends his conservative commentary to the Flathead Beacon.  He can be reached via email at:


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