Nov 7, 2011 1:06 PM by Dennis Bragg (KPAX/KAJ Media Center)
MADISON, WI- The group who wants a statue of Jesus removed from the summit of Big Mountain says it's being inundated with obscene, and even threatening hate mail because of its position.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation had convinced the Forest Service to revoke permits for the nearly 60-year old statue. But the issue erupted into a firestorm when Congressman Denny Rehberg called on the agency to reconsider.
That controversy has turned especially vicious online, both in posts to social media sites, and in the emails that have poured into the FFRF headquarters.
Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says the hate mail is filled with both religious and physical threats.
"Well it's mostly obscene that can't be played on TV," observed Gaylor. "And I think, the one was that was most vicious said 'stay the hell out of Montana. If one of your members ever shows up here they will never leave. They will be planted with the statue.' I mean that's quite a threat. And how is that supposed to make free thinkers and people who believe in separation of church and state in Montana feel? You shouldn't feel unsafe because you support separation of church and state."
Other anonymous emails have threatened FFRF with damnation for their stance.
""your idiots!!!!!!!!! when the flames of hell are on you I hope you remember what got you there."
"Why do you think that a statue on a mountain in Montana has anything to do with establishing a religion . . . You are the vile underbelly of the earth."
"I'll try to pray for you and ask that The Lord will free you from satans' hands. Yes, he's REAL TOO!"
Many of the complaints accuse the group of meddling in Montana's affairs. But Gaylor says the statue is on federal, not state land.
"And this is a misunderstanding," says Gaylor. "This is federal property owned by everybody. Owned as much by someone in Wisconsin and New York as it is by someone in Montana. It's government property. It doesn't belong to individuals. It does not belong to a Roman Catholic men's club."
FFRF has asked U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to overturn a local decision to take more public comment on revoking the permit. Gaylor says the group feels that's an "unfortunate" move that will only "inflame" people more.
"I think I would point out that this Jesus shrine is made of cement. It comes from a mold. There are literally probably tens of thousands of other statues of this ilk available, and on private property all around the country. It can be moved or it can be re-created with no harm," says Gaylor. "And it will ensure that there is no preferential treatment of religion by government or the appearance that people who believe in Jesus are somehow better Americans than those of us who don't."