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Editor's Notebook: Should Churches Be Barred from Being Polling Places?

Is it just me or is this just going too far?

I am not a particularly religious person.  I haven't been to church in a long time though I don't have an issue with people worshiping.  With that said, I'd like readers to voice their opinion on this press release I received earlier today. 

This resonates with me because my polling place has changed from the Benicia Senior Center to the Gateway Church.

Personally I don't think where I vote is nearly as important as if I vote.  

For the record I think a church is a better place to vote than a firehouse because at a church I probably won't get in the way of people who sometimes need to move fast in order to save lives and property.

Here is the press release:

Stating that “churches are an unconstitutionally hostile environment for nonreligious voters,” the North Carolina State Board of Elections has been asked by the American Humanist Association (AHA) to cease allowing the use of churches as polling places.

The AHA’s legal department, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, sent a letter on May 31, 2012, to State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary O. Bartlett saying that state and federal law requires that “appropriate polling places must be neutral civic locations, welcoming to all voters,” and “the use of churches as polling places is, in addition to being a violation of state law, unconstitutional.”

When North Carolinians went to the polls on May 8 to vote on Amendment One, the amendment to the state’s Constitution banning equal marriage rights, news reports highlighted how signs outside of churches being used as polling places displayed messages supporting the amendment. This practice is just one example of a broader situation in the state and across the country in which voters encounter religious messages and influences in what should be neutral polling places.

“Citizens are forced to enter a religious structure and encounter religious messages simply to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” wrote Appignani Legal Center Director William J. Burgess in his letter. “This violates the Establishment Clause [of the U.S. Constitution], which requires the separation of church and state.”

In further support of the request to “take formal action to change the manner in which private polling places are selected and regulated,” Burgess cites scientific studies that show that “subtle environmental cues in a polling place can significantly, but unconsciously, affect citizens’ real-world votes” mainly due to what’s known as the “priming effect” which “nudges voters in a predictable direction [leading] to a systematic, non-random bias in individual’s decision-making.”

As a remedy, the election board is asked to use its authority to issue regulations barring the use of churches as polling places in favor of secular venues such as schools, libraries, fire stations, municipal government offices, courts and recreation centers.

A copy of the letter can be found online here: http://humanistlegalcenter.org/legal/legal-center-opposes-the-use-of-churches-as-polling-places-in-north-carolina/

                                                  ###

The American Humanist Association (www.AmericanHumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, its work is extended through more than 140 local chapters and affiliates across America.  Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center (humanistlegalcenter.org) is a project of the American Humanist Association that provides legal assistance to defend the constitutional rights of secular Americans by challenging violations of the separation of church and state guaranteed by the Establishment Clause and seeking equal rights for humanists, atheists and other freethinkers.

Tell me in the comments section: Am I not being sensitive?

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If there’s something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor JB Davis at 707-628-0051 or email him at benicia@patch.com.

Kenny June 02, 2012 at 03:15 AM
If a church doesn't have a problem with a sinner such as myself voting in their location, then I don't have a problem going in.
JB Davis (Editor) June 02, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I've gotten a few comments on Facebook on this issue. Here is my favorite: A 'church' without it's members is merely a building. Yes a building should allow voting booths.
julie June 02, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Oh in N. Carolina and with pickets outside? Yes that is intimidation IMO. If there is no attempt at intimidation, manipulation, or coercion it would be OK. That said I believe many churches (Catholic Bishops, Mormons) persistently meddle in politics and seek to restrict rights. I would revoke tax-free status for churches. And it could come in CA. We have areas with large Mormon populations.
Robert Livesay June 02, 2012 at 05:17 PM
All most all folks with any concern about politics have a religious leaning. Should they be banned for meddlng, participation or stating an opinion? Just what is wrong with Mormons Julie? For years Churches, garages and meeting halls were where the voting places were. Now that garage may have belonged to lets say a Mormon or a Jewish family. Do you want to ban that garage or some lodge because you do not believe in what they represent. Voting is an earned right and privledge. Please do not try to make it political and anti religious. The only thing that I do believe might be good is test for the right to vote. It will not happen. But as we all know there are folks that take their voting very serious and others that just pull the lever. Being able to vote should be an honor, lets keep it that way and keep politics and religion out of it.
Sam Scrutchins June 02, 2012 at 08:37 PM
I have no problem with churches being used as polling places. However, I would agree with a stipulation that any signs for or against a particular issue being voted upon in a given election should be required to be removed from sight during polling hours.
Adam June 02, 2012 at 08:46 PM
There hasn't been a president since Eisenhower who shouldn't have been hanged for treason and they're making a fuss about what building the voting booths are in?
David Johnston June 03, 2012 at 04:48 AM
At least in California - voting areas are to be free of political signage for 300 ft. I think voting in a church fellowship hall or the like would be OK - not in the santuary.
"The Black Panther of Poetry" June 03, 2012 at 06:09 AM
People, Churches are as good of a place to vote as any. When entertaining the ideal of getting rid of voting in Churches, one has to consider the source. The North Carolina State Board of Elections. First of all the fact that its' a Southern State advocating for such voting restrictions should be rendered meritless altogether. I mean, the South doesn't exactly have a history of fair and equal treatment of its' people of color in any area of politics. And secondly, North Carolina is the neighbor of South Carolina. The State where Congressman Joe Wilson is Senator of; remember him? Yes you do, he is the Senator that yelled out "YOU LIE" to our President and Commander in Chief back in 2009, during President Obama address to a Joint session of Congress. The bottom line of what I am trying to get across to America and the world is that. A church is as good of a place as anywhere else and only those with unsavory and undermining motives would want it otherwise. Heck they can have it in a brothel as far as I care; just have it. At least in a brothel, the "POLLS" would most certainly be up!!!
"The Black Panther of Poetry" June 03, 2012 at 07:31 PM
LOL..."The polls would most certainly be up". I'll be here all week or at least until Election Day!!!
"The Black Panther of Poetry" June 03, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Adam, Thems' fighting words...Don't let Babaloo hear you say that... I mean he and his posse attacks me all the time for less(so they would like for me to think so/but I know why they attack me). I am not color blind, sorry I meant I am not blind!!!
JB Davis (Editor) June 03, 2012 at 09:22 PM
I think that may be the key. Making sure that any positions the church holds regarding a candidiate or an issue is not viewable to anyone who is entering the area to vote.
Babaloo June 06, 2012 at 04:46 AM
man ,,,this guy bobby,,,what an "idiot??"
Babaloo June 06, 2012 at 04:46 AM
well..he lied....what world are you in we live in california...not all these other states you name in your rants...

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