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Gay rights group: Church broke law


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Gay rights group: Church broke law


Gazette State Bureau

HELENA, - Gay rights advocates filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices against the Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church Wednesday, saying the church inappropriately held an event to support a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Montanans for Families and Fairness, a coalition that includes InterMountain Planned Parenthood, PRIDE and the Montana Human Rights Network, said in the complaint that the church failed to report to the state commissioner it used its "in-kind" resources to support the proposed constitutional ban.

Petitions supporting the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage in Montana were circulated at a church event Sunday night. The initiative will be placed on the November ballot if 41,000 voters sign a petition in favor of the measure.


"They made an expense on behalf of this thing," said Rob Hill, campaign director for the coalition that filed the complaint. "We believe they have to file with the commissioner's office. They haven't done that."

The Rev. B.G. Stumberg, who leads the church, was surprised to hear from a reporter Wednesday that someone filed a complaint against his parish.

"I don't know what they're talking about," Stumberg said, after hearing the details of the complaint. "We haven't given a cent. The only thing we've done is we've spoken out for marriage."

The Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church opened its doors Sunday night for a broadcast event that piped in leading national evangelical leaders, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Chuck Colson of the Prison Fellowship, who promoted traditional marriage.

Petitions supporting the constitutional ban against gay marriage were circulated, and signed, Stumberg said. He said the church did nothing wrong.

"If they want to go to court about it, I guess I'll get me a lawyer," Stumberg said.

But Montanans for Families and Fairness said the church should have reported its contributions to the ballot initiative to the state by Wednesday. Citing state law, Hill said the church became an incidental ballot committee when it authorized expenditures for the event and needed to file disclosure reports with the state no later than five days after the church authorized those expenses.

Literature promoting the event indicates that churches had to pay a registration fee to access the simulcast event.

"This church used its resources to plan the event, gather the audience, provide a multimedia event and then petition its congregation, all in support of the discrimination amendment," said Karl Olson, chairman of the coalition.

Olson said churches that "engage in this type of activity" must file the appropriate paperwork with the state.

In addition to incurring fines, the church could be in danger of losing its nonprofit status with the IRS if it engages in political advocacy, he said.

Political Practices Commissioner Linda Vaughey said Wednesday that she has five days in which to determine if a violation occurred.


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