The Jesus statue isn’t the issue…

Ok, so there is a big hullabaloo going on in Montana over a statue of Jesus that has been sitting on federal land since the 1950s.  The statue has started to draw strong criticism from a group of militant atheists who apparently have nothing better to do with their time:

“A statue of Jesus on U.S. Forest Service land in the mountains over a Montana ski resort could be evicted as out-of-state groups advocating for the separation of church and state, have applied pressure on the Forest Service.” (emphasis mine)

The question no one in this episode is asking is, “By what authority does the federal government own that land in Montana?”  The Constitution is actually very clear that the federal government can only own land for a handful of purposes (Article 1, Section 8):

“[T]o exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings.”

So is the U.S. Forest Service operating a Fort, Magazine, Arsenal, or a dock-yard next to the public ski resort?  If this land is actually being used for one of those purposes, then we need to have a serious discussion about why we’re placing military installations next to popular vacation spots.

But, I’ve got a pretty strong hunch that this land isn’t being used for any of those Constitutional purposes.  In that case, resolving this case is really simple.  The federal government owns this land unlawfully and needs to return it to the state of Montana (who could then sell it to the ski resort or another private individual).  Then, the Jesus statue is no longer on federal property – so the skiers can continue to enjoy it and the atheists can stop hyperventilating.

Problem solved.  Isn’t the Constitution great?

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