The Most Complete Big Mountain Jesus Shrine Story Ever Told


As can be illustrated in this time line and articles below, check the Daily Interlake, Flathead Beacon and the Whitefish Pilot have extensively covered the Jesus shrine issue, have had access to the 1954 Whitefish Pilot article since early 12/11 (longer for the Whitefish Pilot) and, in the case of the Daily Interlake and Flathead Beacon, have repeatedly but respectfully been asked about plans for a staff originated article on the the 1954 article (which together with the original permit application, are the best and only “hard” evidence as to the original intent of the shrine). The Daily Interlake did, after having the 54′ article for 7 weeks, on 01/31/12 make the first staff originated reference to the 1954 article. With little explanation (requested), FASHA tentatively believes the lack of separate coverage of this issue is due to widespread public/advertiser perception that the shrine is a “war memorial”, that the newspapers have played major roles in reinforcing this inaccuracy, and that as a result, these newspapers 1) want to to “save face” and not have to admit past errors/contradict public perception and 2) are concerned with public/advertised backlash that may result from such corrections. 


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*The following is a timeline from the origin of the shrine to present based on the best available evidence and, primarily, local news reports*

  • Early 1950′s – During National Ski Championships, several of the world’s leading skiers, who are Catholic, suggest a shrine on Big Mountain
  • Early 1953 – a Knights of Columbus (K of C) Committee choses site for shrine
  • 09/11/53 – K of C applies for special use permit
  • 10/15/53 – special use permit issued by the  U.S. Forest Service “to erect a Statue of our Lord Jesus Christ”, “for the purpose of erecting a religious shrine overlooking the Big Mountain ski run”.
  • Spring 1954 – work begins on the shrine site
  • August 7th and 8th, 1954 – the base is poured
  • August 15th, 1954 – the shrine is placed on the base
  • Sunday, September 5th 1954 – the Shrine is dedicated

A  Sept. 10th, 1954 Whitefish Pilot article details the above information and is the only known “hard” evidence as to the original intent of the Big Mountain Jesus Shrine.

Sept. 10th, 1954 Whitefish Pilot article

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It directly contradicts the story  as stated on the current plaque at the site (below) which was placed in 2010.

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The 1954 Whitefish Pilot article also directly contradicts the “war memorial” story reported extensively through newspaper media throughout 2011 and promoted by public figures such as Rep. Denny Rehberg (detailed below). Also included is FASHA’s attempts to get coverage of the 1954 article in local newspapers.

  • 1954 to 1990 – Not much information other than the U.S. Forest Service renews the K of C special-use permit every 10 years at no cost to K of C..
  • 02/03/00 – Special use permit is renewed “…for the purpose of: Continuing to provide a site for a religious shrine“. The lease map is titled “Knights of Columbus Shrine” and points to the statue’s location via a tab marked “shrine.”
  • 08/10/90 – Special use permit is renewed
  • Spring/summer 2010 – Whitefish Mountain Resort CEO, Dan Graves, places current plaque (above) at site as well as protective fencing (see 02/10/11 Flathead Beacon article)
  • 1954-2010 – At some point during this period, an older plaque is covered up (based on photo evidence at bottom of page)
  • 07/19/10 – K of C submits application for renewal.
  • 12/31/10 – Special use permit expires (unknown why it is not renewed)
  • 02/10/11 – Flathead Beacon - Jesus Saved. Whitefish Resort erects guard to protect Christ statue, plaque explaining its history
  • 05/11 – Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) member issue complaint about the shrine to FFRF
  • 05/11 – FFRF sends letter of compliant to US Forest Service as well as a Freedom of Information Act request for original lease agreement.
  • 07/16/11 – Notice of expiration sent from Forest Service to K of C.
  • 07/19/11 – Special Use Permit Request sent from K of C to US Forest Service.
  • 08/24/11 – US Forest Service decides to not renew permit. In his letter to the K of C, Chip Weber cites the Establishment Clause, the shrine’s uncertain historical significance and that the shrine can be accomodated on private land. Mr. Weber states, “The original stated purpose for the statue was to establish a shrine, an inherently religious object. Furthermore, the statue and its religious objective can be accommodated on adjacent private land”. K of C is asked to have a plan for removal submitted by 12/31/11.
  • 09/01/11 – US Forest Service letter to State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), requesting determination of eligibility for the shrine as a historic site.
  • 09/19/11 – Letter from Montana Historical Society referring to the shrine as a “commemorative marker”, that is “eligible under criteria A and F”, and that it is “close enough to the third example of an Eligible property description”.
  • 10/19/11 – Daily Interlake - Mountain Jesus in jeopardy
  • 10/20?/11 – Rep. Denny Rehberg writes letter to US Forest Service advocating reversal of decision
  • 10/21/11 – In media release, the US Forest Service reverses decision to not renew permit. US Forest Service letter to K of C cites shrine’s eligibility for the National Historic Register and that the US Forest Service will be seeking public comment.
  • 10/21/11 – Daily Interlake - Jesus statue may be spared by Forest Service
  • 10/21/11 – Whitefish Pilot - Outcry over Big Mountain Jesus statue
  • 10/24/11 – Flathead Beacon – Forest Service to Seek Comment on Whitefish Jesus Statue. After denying permit for historical statue, supervisor withdraws decision
  • 10/25/11 – Daily Interlake (AP) - Anti-religion group still wants Jesus statue removed. (A particularly inaccurate statement. FFRF is not “anti-religion” but is against state promotion of religion) 
  • 10/26/11 – Hungry Horse News - Land swap proposed to save Jesus statue
  • 10/26/11 – Editorial by Daily Interlake Editor - Fight against statue ludicrous
  • 10/27/11 – FFRF sends a letter to Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor outlined the serious constitutional problems with the longstanding First Amendment violation. Also attached are pages of hostile emails which FFRF has received. Click here to read hate mail
  • 10/28/11 – Daily Interlake - Rehberg starts web page to collect comments on Jesus statue
  • 11/02/11 – Whitefish Pilot - Support for Jesus statue continues
  • 11/02/11 – Daily Interlake - Statue support thrives online
  • 11/04/11 – Whitefish Pilot - Rehberg to attend rally for Jesus statue
  • 11/04/11Hungry Horse News - Rehberg heads to Whitefish for Jesus statue
  • 11/07/11 – US Forest Service begins 30 day public comment period.
  • 11/07/11 – Flathead Beacon (AP) - Rehberg Proposes Land Swap to Protect Jesus Statue
  • 11/07/11 – Daily Interlake - Land swap proposed for Big Mountain statue
  • 11/07/11 – Whitefish Pilot - Land swap proposed to save Jesus statue
  • 11/09/11 – Hungry Horse News - Land swap proposed for Jesus statue
  • 11/11/11 – FASHA sends email to the Daily Interlake editor asking for a correction for continuing to refer to the shrine as a “war memorial”. No response.
  • 11/13/11 – Flathead Beacon - Rehberg Rallies Support for Big Mountain Jesus
  • 11/15/11 – Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics writes letter to US Forest Service challenging claim that shrine will be irreparably damaged if moved
  • 11/18/11 – Daily Interlake - Statue bill gets support in House (Rep. Rehberg officially introduces “land swap” legislation in the House – HR3500 referring to the shrine as a WWII memorial)
  • 11/19/11 – FASHA sends letter of thanks to the Daily Interlake for mentioning FASHA in its news coverage
  • 11/24/11 – New York Times article on the controversy
  • 11/25/11 – FFRF issues a formal request to the US Forest Service to uphold its original decision
  • 11/25/11 – Flathead Beacon (AP) - Opponents to Big Mountain Jesus Statue Don’t Like Land Swap
  • 12/06/11 – Daily Interlake - Comments pour in on Jesus statue
  • 12/07/11 – Whitefish Pilot - Thousands comment on mountain Jesus statue
  • 12/07/11 – Flathead Beacon (AP) - Public Comment Pouring in on Big Mountain Jesus Statue
  • 12/07/11 – FASHA anonymously receives copy of 1954 Whitefish Pilot article in mail
  • 12/07/11 – 1954 article to KCFW TV and US Forest Service
  • 12/07/11 – Derek Milner of Flathead National Forest states in Missoulian article in regards to the public comment period, ”It’s not a count,” he said. “We are evaluating and summarizing the comments, and we are considering anything that will help inform the decision-maker on pertinent issues.”
  • 12/08/11 – FASHA to Whitefish Pilot and obtains original copy of 1954 Whitefish Pilot article. Editor states that many other people have been in to ask for a copy
  • 12/08/11 – FASHA writes a “Proposal For Resolution”. Calls American Legion and K of C leads for input (none offered). Proposal is amended to include provision for removal and restoration of shrine on private land and is sent to US Forest Service
  • 12/08/11 – US Forest Service ends 30 day public comment period.
  • 12/12/11 – emails sent to editors of Daily Interlake, Flathead Beacon and Missoulian requesting coverage of 1954 article
  • 12/14/11 – Daily Interlake responds with saying “Thank you”
  • 12/15/11 -Flathead Beacon states they will discuss at nest news meeting
  • 12/20/11 – follow-up email to Flathead Beacon re: news meeting
  • 12/22/11 – editor at Flathead Beacon states they are “considering” an article
  • 12/29/11 – email to Daily Interlake editor requesting status of consideration
  • 12/29/11 – emails with Flathead Beacon. Are still considering an article
  • 12/31/11 – Daily Interlake editor states they will have some coverage in 01/01/12 paper
  • 01/01/12 – Brief coverage in Top local stories of 2011 article and a FAHSA editorial
  • 01/03/12 – email to Daily Interlake thanking for coverage and also requesting staff originated article.
  • 01/04/12 – FASHA gets permission from Whitefish Pilot editor to put 1954 article on FASHA website and Facebook pages as long as it is referenced as a Whitefish Pilot article. WP editor states they are “taking a wait and see approach”
  • 01/10/12 – emails to Flathead Beacon and Daily Interlake asking for update
  • 01/11/12 – Ian has phone interview this Missoulian reporter. No promises for coverage but will speak to his editor. FASHA very much appreciates the interview and understands the delay was not intentional.
  • 01/12/12 – Letter to the Editor submission by FASHA to Daily Interlake, Flathead Beacon and Whitefish Pilot addressing the lack of any staff originated coverage on the 1954 article. Are asked to publish the letter if they do not have plans to publish a staff originated article within the next week.
  • 01/19/12 – with no response or articles published locally, FASHA sends the 01/12/12 article to several major Montana newspapers as well as 2 Alberta newspapers.
  • 01/23/12 – the Missoulian, Great Falls Tribune, and Billings Gazette state they will run the editorial.
  • 01/27/12 – the Billings Gazette publishes the letter sent 01/12/12.
  • 01/31/12 – An article in the Daily Interlake regarding Mr. Rehberg’s plan to present “land swap” proposal (HR 3500) before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on 02/03/12. The article references the 1954 article saying that in the 54′ article it is called a “shrine” repeatedly and that it does not mention a war memorial at all. First staff originated comment on the 1954 article!
  • 01/31/12 – US Forest Service renews permit (press release and PDF file). The decision cites 1) Chip Weber’s personal understanding of the shrine 2) “the statue’s historic value and eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places” 3) that ”the decision was reached using an environmental analysis process for Categorical Exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)” and  4) “the comments [from the public comment period] did not identify substantive concerns related to environmental conditions” as being the rational behind the decision.
  • 01/31/12 – Mr. Rehberg issues press release claiming credit for the US Forest Service decision and that he will not proceed with HR 3500.
  • 01/31/12 - FASHA interview - Group Plans to Sue Over Jesus Statue - KCFW TV (video link)
  • 01/31/12 – FASHA interview - A Statue of Jesus Atop Big Mountain Gets Another Lease on Life – MTPR interview
  • 01/31/12 - FFRF to sue over Catholic Shrine on Public Land - FFRF Press Release
  • 01/31/12 - Group Suing Forest Service Over Whitefish Jesus Statue Permit Renewal – Flathead Beacon (online edition)
  • 02/01/12 - Jesus Statue Saved – For Now (Daily Interlake). The article states that despite the US Forest Service renewal of permit Mr. Rehberg will proceed with HR 3500 on 02/03/12. The article cites Mr. Rehberg as stating that he will proceed with the hearing saying it “will allow for the legislation to advance in Congress if the court rules against the Forest Service”.
  • 02/01/12 - A Flathead Memo piece references FASHA’s extensive documentation of the Jesus Shrine debate. Thank you!
  • 02/03/12 - Rep. Rehberg cancels House Subcommittee hearing for “land swap” (HR 3500). The bill refers to the shrine as a “World War II Memorial”, which is demonstrably known to be false. Reasons for cancellation are unknown at this point although likely based on the US Forest Service decision and/or public comments submitted. Thanks to all who sent letters of opposition!
  • 02/08/12 – FFRF files suit in US District Court. Ian does KCFW TV interview.
  • 02/08/12 – Atheists Sue to RemovJesus Statue From Big Mountain (Missoulian)
  • 02/09/12 – Suit Filed Over Jesus Statue – Daily Interlake (despite having evidence to the contrary, the DIL continues to refer to the shrine as a “statue “and “war memorial”)
  • 07/16/12 – Attorney confident Jesus statue will stay on Big Mountain – Daily Interlake article
  • 11/28/12 - Jesus statue challenge salvaged by local atheist - Daily Interlake article
  • 12/03/12 – Interview with Mr. Cox on NPR

In early January, 2012 FASHA received several photos that appear to show an older plaque that was covered up sometime in the past. The plaque is approx. 12″ x 18″. The metal lettering appears to say “Knights of Columbus”, “Jesus” and/or “1953″ or “1954″. See the 2011 photo below.

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