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Montana Restrictions On Clergy Political Speech Ruled Unconstitutional

Minister arrested for gathering signatures wins ban on enforcement of 1913 state law.

Until February, a Montana state law prohibiting ministers and preachers from political speech had never been enforced since its creation in 1913. But after the statute was used to arrest Assemblies of God minister Calvin Zastrow, a Montana judge issued a permanent injunction against enforcing the policy.

The statute provides that a minister or any other church officer "may not, other than by public speech or print, urge, persuade, or command any voter to vote or refrain from voting for or against any candidate, political party ticket, or ballot issue submitted to the people because of the person's religious duty or the interest of any corporation, church, or other organization."

Police arrested Zastrow on Feb. 4 for collecting petition signatures in Yellowstone County's MetraPark, where he was urging voters to acknowledge "that they had a religious duty to support anti-abortion initiatives and candidates."

However, Zastrow sued the county for violating his First Amendment rights, challenging what Zastrow's attorney, Matthew Monforton of Bozeman, characterized as a "clergy censorship law."

At the time of Zastrow's arrest, officials did not say that he violated the clergy speech law, but Zastrow's lawsuit sought a permanent injunction against the policy, which the judge granted.

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