Religious Freedom Rally

Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, speaks to supporters during a religious freedom rally on the steps of the Gallatin County Courthouse in Bozeman on Saturday, April 26. The rally voiced the opposition of the proposed non-discrimination ordinance being discussed by the Bozeman City Commission.

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Five Bozeman residents are suing the city, the mayor and city commissioners over the city's newly adopted non-discrimination ordinance.

In a complaint filed in Gallatin County District Court, residents Peter Arnone, Dave Baldwin, Ross Hartman, Dawnette Osen and Sharon Swanson are asking a judge to declare the non-discrimination ordinance invalid.

They claim the ordinance is preempted by state law and is beyond the commission's power and authority.

The city of Bozeman, Mayor Jeff Krauss, Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor and commissioners Chris Mehl, Cyndy Andrus and I-Ho Pomeroy are named as defendants.

The plaintiffs are described in the paperwork as “members of a larger class of similarly concerned and aggrieved citizen-taxpayers” whose rights, status or other legal relations may be affected by the ordinance.

They claim the mayor, deputy mayor and commissioners did not have a legal basis for enacting the ordinance and that it is invalid under state law.

In addition to having the non-discrimination ordinance declared invalid, the plaintiffs also want to be paid for attorney's fees and other costs and expenses incurred.

In June, Bozeman became the fourth Montana city to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, protecting people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

The ordinance aims to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. It went into effect at the beginning of July, 30 days after the commission adopted it.

Opponents have hinted at a lawsuit since before the ordinance was adopted.

At an April rally held in opposition to the ordinance, Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, presented three letters, claiming the city can't legally pass an ordinance. One of those letters was from Bozeman lawyer Michael San Souci. San Souci is named in court documents as the attorney representing the five residents suing the city.

At the rally, Laszloffy said that because the city of Bozeman is a self-governing body it doesn't have the legal authority to implement the ordinance, which is a power reserved for the state.

“This issue before the city council right now is ripe for a lawsuit,” he said at the rally.

Earlier this year, hundreds of people attended City Commission meetings to speak their minds while city leaders considered adopting the ordinance.

During some meetings, which included hours of public comment, those for and against the ordinance urged commissioners to side with them. Members of the LGBT community, their friends and family and other supporters said the protections were needed. Some ordinance opponents said they were concerned such an ordinance would trample their religious freedoms.

In the end, the mayor, deputy mayor and all three commissioners voted in favor of the non-discrimination ordinance.

Erin Schattauer can be reached at 582-2628 or She's on Twitter at @erinschattauer.

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