This veterans memorial erected by the Kalispell Knights of Columbus more than 60 years ago still at risk of being torn down . . .
The veterans memorial stands six feet tall and memorializes fallen members
of the Tenth Mountain Division in Western Montana’s Flathead National Forest.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments this week in the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) appeal, as the atheist organization continues its efforts to have the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial located on Big Mountain in Montana’s Flathead National Forest torn down.
The Knights of Columbus of Kalispell, Montana erected this veterans memorial more than 60 years ago, and its six-foot statue of Jesus has stood without objection until FFRF filed suit. Honoring the selfless service and sacrifice of soldiers from the Tenth Mountain Division during World War II, the memorial sits on land that is leased from the federal government.
“The removal of the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial would be an insult to the Tenth Mountain Division veterans,” says First Liberty Institute General Counsel Jeff Mateer. “Removing this memorial would be contrary to Supreme Court precedent and would result in impermissible viewpoint discrimination and the unlawful censorship of the Kalispell Knights’ private speech.”
HONORING THE TENTH MOUNTAIN DIVISION
The figure of Jesus was chosen by the Kalispell Knights of Columbus in remembrance of the many religious shrines and monuments the Tenth Mountain Division soldiers encountered while fighting in some of the roughest terrain in the hills and mountains of Europe during World War II.
Former members of the Tenth Mountain Division members were pioneers of the modern-day ski industry and thought a ski mountain was a fitting place for a veterans memorial to honor their fallen service members. In 1953, the Kalispell Knights of Columbus—many of whom were Tenth Mountain Division veterans—sought and obtained a special permit form the U.S. Forest Service to erect a veterans memorial.
The U.S. Forest Service renewed the Kalispell Knights of Columbus’ special use permit for the veterans memorial for nearly six decades—without issue. But in August 2011, the Forest Service denied the Kalispell Knights’ application for their permit renewal. After a public outcry of support for the veterans memorial, the government reversed its decision and allowed the veterans memorial to remain in place for ten more years.
THE “TROUBLE” WITH THE TENTH MOUNTAIN DIVISION VETERANS MEMORIAL
However, in 2012, FFRF sued the U.S. Forest Service for renewing the permit, arguing that the statue’s presence is unconstitutional. In 2013, a United States District Court judge ruled in favor of the veterans memorial.
But the attack didn’t stop there.
FFRF appealed their loss to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This caused yet another outpouring of support for the veterans memorial—and this time the State of Montana and The American Legion, which represents approximately 2.4 million members, and is represented by First Liberty Institute, joined the fight to save the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial.
In May 2014, Along with Attorney General of Montana, First Liberty Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the State of Montana and The American Legion in support of preserving the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial.
The brief argues that:
1. This case presents a straight-forward application of long-standing First Amendment principles.
2. Based on plain, binding precedent of the Supreme Court and this Court, the Memorial constitutes the private speech of the Kalispell Knights and is protected by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses.
3. Governmental removal of the Memorial would constitute impermissible viewpoint discrimination, as the First Amendment bars selective exclusion of religious symbols from the public square.
MORE VETERANS MEMORIALS UNDER ATTACK
Sadly, attacks like the one against the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial are not isolated incidents—and are only growing as more anti-religious organizations like Freedom From Religion Foundation are mounting attacks against veterans memorials across America today. . . .
· Like a treasured Veterans’ Memorial in King, North Carolina. Radical lawyers used a lawsuit to frighten the town into removing this memorial because it showed a soldier kneeling by a grave with a cross. Now, veterans’ hearts are broken.
· Or the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorialwhich the ACLU is trying to tear down because of its 29-foot cross. More than 3,500 veterans are honored by this memorial—including Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower—which also features various and diverse religious and secular symbols.
· And the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, erected by The American Legion with the help of mothers of soldiers killed in action overseas. The American Humanist Association is trying to tear down, remove or alter this historic veterans memorial that’s been there for almost 100 years . . . just because it’s in the shape of a cross. But if the cross in this veterans memorial falls, those at places like Arlington National Cemetery will be targets as well.
This case to protect the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial —or First Liberty Institute’s cases involving the Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial and the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial—could set precedent that either protects veterans memorials or exposes them to further attack.
First Liberty Institute is committed to enforcing the law that allows veterans memorials that are in compliance with the United States Constitution and will continue its support of the preservation of the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial.
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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.FirstLiberty.org.