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The Ongoing Palm Beach County Church Poll cse
Posted: 12 June 2007 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]
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As some of you may know I am the lead (only) counsel for the plaintiff in the case that is pending in Federal District Court in Palm Beach County concerning violation of the establishment clause and voting in churches. We are reaching the close of discovery and soon I will be able to be more forthcoming regarding its progress. I’d like to hear your thoughts here in the meantime, what do you all think about voting in a church in the US?
Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 12 June 2007 11:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I see the problem, although I had never thought about it before.  The local Unitarian church is a perennial polling place, but they have the sign in and booths in a meeting room that has no church advertising in it.  I haven’t checked, but I believe that other churches in Los Angeles County are supposed to cover their religious symbols when they use the room as a voting area.

I guess I wouldn’t be too worried about it if the voters were not exposed to any commercials.  However, since they are tax exempt, maybe they should furnish their facilities as polling places to the county without accepting payment for such use. 

Occam

[ Edited: 12 June 2007 11:29 AM by Occam ]
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Posted: 12 June 2007 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I suppose whether there’s a problem or not depends on the way the individual church handles the situation. I can see how people’s right to vote could be infringed if they felt uncomfortable going to a highly sectarian polling place. But I can also see how a church could be just a conveniently sized and located building for polling with no overtly discouraging features to individual voters. I guess the question is whether the possibility or real frequency of problems at churches used for voting is sufficient to justify banning their use as polling places. Obviously, I don’t know eneough qbout it to say whether the problem is actually significant. I think I’ve always voted in schools, though I suppose I could have had a polling place in a church and I can’t say as I would have even thought much about it despite being a non-believer myself.

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Posted: 12 June 2007 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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What if the polling room itself had banners above the voting booths saying “God Loves Us” and there were copies of the Our Father and Hail Mary and the Ten commandments posted on the white boards in the same voting room and on the entrance of the church going to the room where you vote there was a poster of Jesus wearing his crown of thorns?
Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
Tavernier, FL
http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/1/
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 12 June 2007 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Jim,

Well, as I said this is the sort of behavior that I can see being intimidating and interferng with voters’ rights. The question is whether this sort of thing is sufficiently widespread that we need a general ban on voting in churches. While I’m not especially sympathetic to religion, I can see a slippery slope there. What about private businesses as polling places? What sort of restrictions shoulde be placed on the exercise of free expression in any location used as a polling place. What if the Christians, who vastly outnumber us, don’t feel comfortable voting is secular public schools that have posters of Darwin up?

I’m not saying using churches as polling places shouldn’t be banned, I’m just not sure I personally know enough about how pervasive or serious the problem is in general to have a position on it. I suspect that sort of information is part of the discovery process you referred to, so maybe when you are free to discuss that further you could share some of it with us?

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Posted: 12 June 2007 04:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Seems to me there is a lot of potential coercion that could go on in such an environment. IIRC one is not allowed to “electioneer” within something like 100 feet of a polling site. I.e. no politicizing allowed. Clearly the establishment clause of the Constitution should disallow this sort of religious rhetoric as well.

All best to you and your efforts, Jim! Great to know you’re there fighting the good fight!

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Posted: 12 June 2007 07:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Yeah, since the candidates probably claim to be adherents of different sects, then having a polling place in a church of the denomination one of them belongs to is, I would think, de facto (or is it de jur, I can never tell the difference) electioneering.

Occam

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Posted: 12 June 2007 09:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I had to vote in a church last time around, but I did not notice anything that should not have been there. Then again, I didn’t notice any Gideon Bible in the motel room I stayed in a few years ago either.  I’m sure it was probably there, but I never noticed it.  It seems I have become a bit immune to noticing these things.

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 13 June 2007 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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dougsmith - 12 June 2007 04:27 PM

Seems to me there is a lot of potential coercion that could go on in such an environment. IIRC one is not allowed to “electioneer” within something like 100 feet of a polling site. I.e. no politicizing allowed. Clearly the establishment clause of the Constitution should disallow this sort of religious rhetoric as well.

All best to you and your efforts, Jim! Great to know you’re there fighting the good fight!

I do not think having the polling stations in a church would influence my vote at all.  I think there “could” be a possibility of coercion, doesn’t mean that there is one.  What may seem offensive to one, another doesn’t give notice as we have seen here in this thread.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 12:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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peachey1 - 13 June 2007 08:45 AM

I do not think having the polling stations in a church would influence my vote at all.  I think there “could” be a possibility of coercion, doesn’t mean that there is one.  What may seem offensive to one, another doesn’t give notice as we have seen here in this thread.


Fair enough, but that’s not relevant for the law. One could just as easily argue that electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place wouldn’t affect your vote. And yet statistically it can and does influence votes. The fact that it can and does is why it is outlawed.

The government cannot legally “establish” one religion as paramount. They can’t prefer one religion over another. Having voting take place in a church—particularly a church with overt religious symbols and exhortations—is preferential treatment for that religion.

Put another way, what if they just printed a large cross at the top of each ballot?

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Posted: 13 June 2007 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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jimmiekeyes - 12 June 2007 10:15 AM

I’d like to hear your thoughts here in the meantime, what do you all think about voting in a church in the US?

I think that one of the fundamental objectives of religious people is the coercion of others, and polling anywhere people practice religion would be detrimental.  Some religious people see it as their duty to influence others, and this would be the perfect avenue for them.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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And yet statistically it can and does influence votes. The fact that it can and does is why it is outlawed.

I would say the fact that is “does” is why it is illegal, not that it “can.” I still think you can’t base the law on the mere possibility that something might be problematic because that opens the door to too much unecessary legislation and micromanagement of daily life. I think you have to have some empirical evidence that something is a real problem to justify a law against it. The fact that it seems reasonable it might be a problem is not enough. Is there such evidence for voting in churhces, beyond the anecdotes we’ve all brought up here?

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Posted: 13 June 2007 02:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Yes, I am an anomoly.  The only time I notice is if they get up in my face to become intimidating and threatening.  Otherwise, I walk past the religious like I would any other group of animals in nature. The objects for me are harmless, but the humans are not- esp if they are extremists.  I’m more worried about the humans at such places than I am the objects.

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Mriana
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Posted: 13 June 2007 06:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Interesting you all, I am surprised that no one has spoken of the wall of separation between church and state (Jefferson) or the fact that our country is a secular one that that first amendment protects all religions from government interference and that the establishment clause protects government from the interference of religion.
You all have espoused (except Doug) the view that if it doesn’t influence your vote it must be OK. Or even if it does there is no law against it.

The question is: is it a breach of the establishment clause? And you have so far failed to discuss the reverse of influence. The potential for political organization by the church, gaining the votes of their members while driving some non-members away?

The potential for gaining government power seems to be overlooked too.

Now think and tell me what you see.
Jim

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Jimmie Keyes
Tavernier, FL
http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/1/
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 13 June 2007 08:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I think it might be a breach if a person is assigned a polling place set up at a church, and there were no alternatives.  I personally would bristle if I were told I had to do my voting at a local church.

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Posted: 13 June 2007 11:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I’m not convinced that having voting in buildings owned by religious organizations is per se a violation of the establishment clause. Of course, there are often judgement calls involved when trying to decide if an interaction between government and religion constitutes either an interference with free exercise or “establishment.” Government renting a building from a religious group for the purpose of using it as a polling place doesn’t seem an automatic violation of the first amendment to me. As I said, I think the practical impact of such a practice is more relevant than the simple fact that a religious organization owns the building in question.

As for churches organizing and participating in politics, I have nothing against that so long as they give up their tax exempt status and are regulated exactly as secular political organizations are, but I certainly don’t think they should have the voice they currently do in public policy while still getting such special treatment by government. I think separation of church and state is crucial, and there should be more of it. But I also think that religion is entrenched in our society and represents a sizeable majority perspective, so we have to deal with it pragmatically, pick our battles and so on. I am bothered much more by laws against gay marriage and stem cell research, which have no basis other than religious belief, and I wonder why these can’t be attacked as violations of the secular principles of the nation.

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