Attorney General Fox Asks Ninth Circuit Court to Uphold Ruling Protecting Montanans’ First Amendment Rights

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox joined the American Legion today in filing an amicus curiae brief asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a ruling by Judge Dana Christensen that declared a veterans memorial in Whitefish to be constitutional. Read the brief here.

In 2012, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued to have the Tenth Mountain Division Veterans Memorial at the Whitefish Mountain Resort removed on the grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s religious establishment clause. U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen disagreed, ruling that the statue does not violate the Constitution because the government “neither owns the statue nor exercises control over the property on which it is located.” The statute is on federal land leased to the resort under a multi-use permit. It was funded and erected by the Kalispell Knights of Columbus to honor the service of the U.S. Army’s Tenth Mountain Division during World War II.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has appealed Judge Christensen’s ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Judge Christensen got it right in his ruling: the statue is the private speech of its private owners,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “That speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the federal government forcibly removing the statue would amount to a violation of the rights that the soldiers of the Tenth Mountain Division fought and died to protect.”

For nearly 60 years, the Tenth Mountain Division memorial has been seen by thousands of tourists and motorists in the Whitefish area.