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Montana investigating a church for political activity; church sues

A [Montana] church has sued the state political practices commissioner after she launched an investigation into whether it became a political organization by urging members to support a proposed ballot measure banning same-sex marriage.

Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church of East Helena contends in the federal suit filed Monday in Helena that the campaign finance laws at issue are unconstitutional.

Applying the laws to churches stifles free speech and religious freedom, and the investigation has discouraged churches from collecting petition signatures to put the proposed ban on the November ballot, the suit claims.

''Montana's election law regarding campaign finance and practice is so vague it allows the state to chill free speech and religious expression rights of churches that publicly take a position on the subject of marriage,'' said Benjamin Bull, chief attorney for Alliance Defense Fund. ...

The suit is in response to a complaint filed with Vaughey last month, alleging a May 23 church event urging support for Constitutional Initiative 96 transformed the church into a political committee. The church failed to register as such with Vaughey's office and to report spending associated with the event, the complaint stated. -- Vaughey sued over applying campaign laws to church (The Havre Daily News)