There's a marble statue of Jesus standing 17 feet tall on top of a Mississippi River bluff overlooking downtown St. Paul, and the owner says it's there to stay now that the city has stopped fighting it.
"I'm very happy," Tuan Pham said.
Pham told FOX 9 News he won his battle with the City of St. Paul after years of struggling over the 4-ton statue. The stony stalemate began with an anonymous complaint in 2011.
Pham bought his home in 2007 after emigrating from Vietnam with his wife and 10 children in 1980. He commissioned the statue as a replica of the 105-foot Christ of Vung Tao statue in his native country.
Initially, the city asked Pham to remove the statue because of its proximity to the edge of the bluff. They also denied his appeal because an ordinance required a 40-foot setback from the edge of the bluff.
Yet, comments made by one City Council member about religious statues on the bluff were what set the stage for a civil rights lawsuit.
"In our view, this case wasn't about bluff setback," explained James Magnuson, of Mohrman & Kaardal. "This case was about the right for a citizen to worship as he chose."
So after losing his first fight with City Hall, Pham called upon a higher power - the U.S. Constitution.
"Fundamentally, we think this is a case about religious liberty," Magnuson said. "Tuan Pham was a man who escaped religious persecution in Vietnam and he came to this country, as he says, 'to build a better life based on ability to exercise his religion freely.'"
With legal help from the Alliance Defending Freedom, Pham ultimately settled with the city without going to court. In fact, Pham was so excited he even had the settlement agreement bronzed to confirm the statue will stay for years to come.
"My reaction was, 'Thank God,'" he said. "Here in the free country -- no matter how big you are, how small I am, how rich you are, how poor I am -- we have equal treatment."
Yet even as he struggled with the city, Pham also had to deal with an arsonist who damaged the statue by piling wood around the base and setting it alight in April 2012. While the statue escaped with a few streaks of soot and discoloration, the family was very shaken by the brazen vandal being on their property. The statue has since been restored and Pham said it looks "like new."
KDFW FOX 4
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