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Montana group sues state over charitable program


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A conservative Montana group has filed a lawsuit against the state contending its exclusion from a state employee charitable donation program is discriminatory because it's based on the group's religious views. The Laurel-based Montana Family Foundation filed the lawsui t Thursday in U.S. District Court in Billings. The group describes itself as pro-family Christian, and contends other religious and advocacy groups are allowed to participate in the Montana State Employee Charitable Giving Campaign. The group contends its First Amendment right to free speech and other constitutional rights have been violated. The group is seeking unspecified damages and the ability to participate in the state employee donation program. Alliance Defense Fund, a Tennessee-based alliance of Christian lawyers and organizations, is representing the foundation. "Government officials are denying state employees the opportunity to give to one group, while allowing them to contribute to groups with other views and activities that the state is more fond of," said Nate Kellum, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. "The result is that organizations that promote Christian principles in the way MFF does are effectively shut out from participating in the campaign, and that's simply unconstitutional." The s tat e ' s Empl oye e Charitable Giving Campaign allows state employees, through payroll deductions, checks or cash, to donate to charities and nonprofits. Th e Mo n t a n a Fami l y Foundation said it applied to participate in the program in 2009 after being contacted by a state employee wishing to donate money. But the application was rejected, the lawsuit says, because the group didn't qualify under the state's anti-sectarian rule.


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