BILLINGS, Mont. 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 lawsuit April 15 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, an Arizona-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 state’s Employee Charitable Giving Campaign allows state employees, through payroll deductions, checks or cash, to donate to charities and nonprofits.
The Montana Family 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.
The group says its exclusion meant it missed the opportunity to receive some of the $532,000 donated by state employees.
The foundation in the lawsuit contends more than 400 nonprofits took part in the program in 2009, including groups that were “ideologically driven” and that promoted “viewpoints antithetical” to those of the foundation, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana Foundation, Montana Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, Montana Human Rights Network and Planned Parenthood of Montana.
The lawsuit also contends that other religious groups were included in the program, including Catholic Social Services of Montana, the Salvation Army, and the Butte Rescue Mission.
Named as a defendant in the lawsuit is Paula Stoll, administrator of the Department of Administration’s State Human Resources Division.
On April 16 she said she hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.
Also named in the suit are Jack Lynch, advisory council chairman of the campaign’s steering committee; Mary Wright, the campaign’s eligibility chairwoman; and 12 members of the steering committee.