Court Says Ballot Law Violated Church’s Rights

     (CN) – The 9th Circuit ruled that a Montana election law was unconstitutionally applied to a church that campaigned and collected signatures to support a ballot amendment that would define marriage as a heterosexual union.

     Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church of East Helena, Mont., showed a video called “Battle for Marriage” and collected 98 signatures on a petition to get the constitutional amendment issue on the November 2004 ballot.
     A group called Montanans for Families and Fairness protested that the church did not file the disclosure forms of a proper political action committee.
     Dennis Unsworth, Montana’s Commission of Political Practices, agreed that the church was required to file the forms.
     The church filed a lawsuit alleging due process and First Amendment violations, and said Montana’s campaign laws are impermissibly vague.
     The district court ruled for Unsworth, but Judge Canby of the San Francisco-based federal appeals court reversed the decision.
     “Montana’s in-kind expenditures provision may not be applied to the church’s conduct when that conduct neither causes an economic detriment to the church nor carries an ascertainable market value,” Canby ruled.
     “There is no indication that the church suffered any detriment from either placing a few sheets of paper in its foyer or having its pastor engage in a brief discussion of (the amendment).”

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