By KATIE OYAN of the Associated Press
HELENA - A hearing before a federal appeals court is scheduled for Monday in a case involving an East Helena church accused of breaking state campaign laws.
Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church is appealing a 2006 decision by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula, who ruled against the church and its lawsuit challenging a decision by the then-state commissioner of political practices.
The commissioner, Gordon Higgins, found that Canyon Ferry violated state law by not reporting its in-kind support of a 2004 constitutional initiative defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
The initiative, CI 96, passed by about a 2-1 margin.
Higgins said the church became an “incidental campaign committee” by holding meetings, distributing petitions and being involved in political activities, and was therefore required to file disclosure records. However, the office did not prosecute the case.
The church countered that Higgins’ ruling violated its freedom of speech and religion. It filed suit in 2004 against the commissioner who succeeded Higgins, Linda Vaughey, saying the state campaign laws are unconstitutional.
In 2006, Molloy ruled against the church. He said in his ruling that “nothing in the First Amendment keeps the state from exercising its regulatory authority over the political process, even when the politicking takes place in the �sanctuary.’ ”
The church appealed Molloy’s decision, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear the case Monday in Seattle.
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