Author Archive

Federal Judge Halts Wisconsin Election Law

April 9, 2010

State campaign finance laws are usually very burdensome and perplexing.  Nonetheless, some states require churches and other groups to comply with these complex laws simply for speaking out on important moral issues that are on the local ballot, such as marriage.  That requires a church to register with the state and fill out reams of paperwork.

ADF is always on the lookout for these types of government restrictions on churches and people of faith, and has successfully challenged such laws in the past.  So we were glad to hear that last week a Wisconsin federal judge halted enforcement of a state law that required residents to register with the state and jump through all kinds of other bureaucratic hoops just to communicate with fellow citizens on a ballot issue.  The case was brought by Jim Bopp’s James Madison Center for Free Speech, on behalf of a resident who wanted to distribute post cards to his neighbors to encourage them to vote no on a local liquor ballot initiative.

It’s a good win and reaffirms that people shouldn’t have to register with the state before they speak out on important moral issues. In this case, it means that the citizen who challenged the law can advocate for the ballot measure without having to register with the state and submit reams of paperwork.  And it means that next time there’s an important moral issue on the ballot, churches will also be free to advocate for it without fearing prosecution if they don’t register with the state first. 

Incidentally, as a refresher for what pastors and churches can and can’t do during an election, you might want to check out our “Guidelines for Political Activities by Churches and Pastors.”

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

Montana Baptist Church Continuing to Impact the Law

March 24, 2010

Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church is a normal church in Helena, Montana, that made a very abnormal impact on the law involving a pastor’s right to speak Truth from the pulpit. 

Recently we represented Canyon Ferry Road Church in a case against the state of Montana.  Montana had required the church to actually become (and operate as) a political committee simply because the pastor encouraged his congregation from the pulpit to support the local marriage amendment and allowed volunteers to place petition sheets in the back of his church.  We sued Montana on behalf of the church, arguing that the laws violated the First Amendment.

After several years of intense litigation, the Ninth Circuit ruled, unanimously, in favor of the church.  The result was that churches up and down the Western seaboard could not be subject to election laws like Montana’s.  The case has also been used outside the Ninth Circuit to persuade courts that churches and people of faith are entitled to broad constitutional protections to speak on the pressing social and moral issues of the day. 

And the case continues to pay dividends.  Harvard Law Review recently highlighted the case in the most recent edition of its journal.  They note that a private party who opposed the marriage amendment instigated the state’s investigation of the church.  That group then sent threat letters to hundreds of conservative churches across the state, saying that they would file a complaint against any other church that supported the marriage amendment like Canyon Ferry did. 

It was pure political bullying, backed by the substantial resources of the state.  Harvard Law Review recognized what a constitutional hazard that poses for churches and other groups.  They called on legislatures to rid their statutes of laws that allow third parties to file complaints based on constitutionally protected speech. 

We also understand that another Law Review article is due this spring from Notre Dame that focuses on the case.  It’s a reminder of what a difference one church can make.  Because of a small Baptist church’s faithful commitment to fight for its rights, the law changed and all believers benefited.