The Knights of Columbus have been maintaining a statute of Jesus, to honor WWII soldiers, in Flathead National Forest since 1953. The Forest Service leases the Knights a 625 sq ft. parcel of land on which they maintain the statute. Every ten years the Knights apply for a permit to renew their lease, and have had it approved for 50 years until this year. The Forest Service decided not to renew the permit after their General Counsel’s office advised them against it. The Forest Service states that the permit would likely run afoul of the establishment clause, and they also cited a fear of litigation over the issue. Montana’s sole congressman, Denny Rehberg, is working with the Knights to keep the statute in the park.
At first it appeared rather straightforward that a religious statute in a National Forest should likely not be allowed. However, I then remembered that the Park Service maintains various national cemeteries. Many grave-markers in these cemeteries have crosses, Stars of David, or other religious symbols on them. It appears that we are OK with some religious symbols in our national parks and forests, but not all types. Where should the line get drawn?