WHITEFISH, Mont. -

Montana's attorney general is urging a federal appeals court to keep a religious statue on Forest Service land on Big Mountain in the Flathead.

Tim Fox filed a friend-of-the-court brief Wednesday with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court is considering an appeal from a group called Freedom From Religion.

That group lost a round in Montana, when U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ruled the statue is used more for photo opportunities than religious reflection.

Freedom From Religion argues the statue violates the separation of church and state.

"Court of appeals will agree with us, that it is important to uphold the separation of church and state," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"We have maintained this icon for decades; we hope that we will continue to do so in perpetuity," said Rod Samdahl, a member of the Whitefish Knights of Columbus.

Samdahl told NBC Montana that at a local open discussion, around 90,000 people had responded supporting keeping the statue where it's at, and only a few hundred opposed.