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Breaking news: Montana allows conservative group in charity program

 


Mont. allows conservative group in charity program

MATT GOURAS,Associated Press Writer

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A conservative group that claimed it was unfairly banned from a state employee charity campaign will be allowed to participate after a settlement with the state.

The state Department of Administration said it was glad to remove its ban on sectarian-based groups in the program — which dates back to the mid-1990s — after looking into the issue. The program allows state employees to automatically donate to their favorite charity through automatic paycheck deduction.

Earlier this year, the Montana Family Foundation filed a lawsuit contending the state was wrong to exclude religious-based groups from the state employee charitable donation program. The Laurel-based group describes itself as pro-family Christian, and is engaged in anti-abortion and other social issues.

"The bottom line was that groups like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and The Montana Human Rights Network were allowed to participate, but organizations that work on the exact same issues but from a Christian perspective were not," said Jeff Laszloffy, who runs the Family Foundation. "This is classic viewpoint discrimination, and it's patently unconstitutional."

The state recently sent out an e-mail to employees that the Family Foundation would join more than 400 other non-profits that are enrolled.

DOA deputy director Sheryl Olson said the issue did not rise to the agency's attention until the lawsuit was filed. It quickly became apparent that other states, along with the federal government, don't have such a ban on religous groups.

"When this was brought to our attention, we realized we really do need to clean up that language," Olson said. "We ended up just removing that language, and we're glad to do it because we realize we are now just more in sync with the rest of the nation."

Olson said the ban applied to groups that were "primarily" sectarian. Determining which passed that bar was a chore for a committee that runs the group, and had led to such groups as Catholic Social Services and Young Life, a school-aged group based in Christianity, being allowed into the program, while the Family Foundation had been disallowed.

State employees gave more than $500,000 last year to nonprofit groups, Olson said.

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A conservative group that claimed it was unfairly banned from a state employee charity campaign will be allowed to participate after a settlement with the state.

The state Department of Administration said it was glad to remove its ban on sectarian-based groups in the program — which dates back to the mid-1990s — after looking into the issue. The program allows state employees to automatically donate to their favorite charity through automatic paycheck deduction.

Earlier this year, the Montana Family Foundation filed a lawsuit contending the state was wrong to exclude religious-based groups from the state employee charitable donation program. The Laurel-based group describes itself as pro-family Christian, and is engaged in anti-abortion and other social issues.

"The bottom line was that groups like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and The Montana Human Rights Network were allowed to participate, but organizations that work on the exact same issues but from a Christian perspective were not," said Jeff Laszloffy, who runs the Family Foundation. "This is classic viewpoint discrimination, and it's patently unconstitutional."

The state recently sent out an e-mail to employees that the Family Foundation would join more than 400 other non-profits that are enrolled.

DOA deputy director Sheryl Olson said the issue did not rise to the agency's attention until the lawsuit was filed. It quickly became apparent that other states, along with the federal government, don't have such a ban on religous groups.

"When this was brought to our attention, we realized we really do need to clean up that language," Olson said. "We ended up just removing that language, and we're glad to do it because we realize we are now just more in sync with the rest of the nation."

Olson said the ban applied to groups that were "primarily" sectarian. Determining which passed that bar was a chore for a committee that runs the group, and had led to such groups as Catholic Social Services and Young Life, a school-aged group based in Christianity, being allowed into the program, while the Family Foundation had been disallowed.

State employees gave more than $500,000 last year to nonprofit groups, Olson said.

 

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