home
RSS
My Take: Stop using churches as polling places
The author says that churches that act as polling places can sway voters.
November 6th, 2012
09:19 AM ET

My Take: Stop using churches as polling places

Editor’s note: The Rev. Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

By Barry W. Lynn, Special to CNN

I live in Maryland, where we have a lot of controversial questions on Tuesday's ballot, including referenda on marriage equality, the rights of immigrants and the expansion of gambling.

Many churches and other houses of worship have taken stands on these issues and lots of others, which is their prerogative. Although federal law prohibits churches from endorsing or opposing candidates, they have the right to speak out on ballot referenda and on other issues, from abortion to zoning.

All of this church-based political activity makes me uneasy about casting ballots in houses of worship, especially those festooned with political signs. And yet today, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches around the country are being pressed into service as polling places.

At Americans United for Separation of Church and State, we get a steady stream of calls about this phenomenon every election season. Some complain of being forced to cast their ballot in a house of worship when there’s a nearby public school, library or community center that could just as easily act as a polling place.

Casting a ballot in a church? Tweet us about it

We shouldn’t dismiss these concerns as whining from an overly sensitive band of people who are religion-phobic. These concerns are legitimate. And some intriguing studies even suggest that voting in a church might influence voters.

The American Humanist Association, which filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against voting in churches in Florida, cited a recent Baylor University study published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion that found that people in the Netherlands and England reported more conservative views to a pollster when in the vicinity of a church.

“[The] important finding here,” said the study’s co-author, Wade Rowatt, “is that people near a religious building reported slightly but significantly more conservative social and political attitudes than similar people near a government building.”

My Take: On Election Day, I’m proclaiming loyalty to Jesus

An earlier study by Stanford University reported a similar effect. “Voting in a church could activate norms of following church doctrine,” said Jonah Berger, a Stanford researcher. “Such effects may even occur outside an individual’s awareness.”

In Maryland, this might mean that an on-the-fence voter facing the marriage equality question might be pushed to vote no by something as simple as a sign or pamphlet in the church/polling place. Such material might even affect a soft voter’s candidate choices.

How is this possible? Psychologists call it “priming,” the idea that even subtle visual or verbal cues can affect human behavior.

More studies need to be done to validate and explain this phenomenon. In the meantime it would make sense to avoid using churches as polling places. Neutral sites should always be preferred.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

There are other reasons to skip casting ballots in the basilica.

I’ve talked with people who describe their unease voting on an abortion-related referendum in a Catholic church, where they may be surrounded by posters depicting abortion as a grisly holocaust. Others say they don’t want to back an abortion-rights candidate in a church that is known for anti-abortion activism.

No public library, public school or town hall would display such material next to the voting machines. No government building would have a towering cross in the voting area.

My Take: Charting Bible’s ‘GOP’ words

Many of those who have contacted us about this have reported that churches will not remove this material and that pastors argue that they have a right to keep it up.

As churches become more aggressive in the political arena, the argument that they can be neutral sites for voting, a concept that has been embraced by some courts, comes up short.

I’ve even talked with atheists, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians who don’t want to exercise a basic constitutional right in a church. These people have nothing against Christianity; they simply don’t believe that a fundamental democratic right should hinge on their willingness to enter a church. (And yes, most of the houses of worship used as polling places are Christian churches.)

People who support using churches as polling places often point to the need to maximize the number of polling locations to increase turnout. That’s a laudable goal, but there are many ways to do this that don’t rely on using churches, like early voting and voting by mail.

Imagining the first Mormon White House

For those who prefer to show up in person on Election Day, there are plenty of schools, libraries, town halls and civic centers to meet the need for polling centers. In small towns and rural areas, well-known commercial sites would make better polling places than churches.

If there is absolutely no other option than voting in churches, I recommend that election officials make it clear to officials at the church that they must play by the same rules as every other site.

That means no politicking inside a certain zone. And the area where the voting occurs should be cleansed of all religious symbols and political material. The voting area should be as neutral as possible.

Voting is every Americans right, some would say duty. Let’s do all we can to avoid making people feel unwelcome at the ballot box.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Barry W. Lynn.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 2012 Election • Church • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (1,507 Responses)
  1. Chad

    I'm not a church going Christian either but I nver understood how Chrisitians, who supposedly have voted for Jesus, can allow voting for imperfect men in their buildings. WHat must their God think, treason?

    November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Topher

      Do you know of any perfect men ... other than Jesus?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Mittology

      Do you know of any perfect men. Period.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Pete

      I am perfect.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  2. Tom Gardosik

    Give it a break. How many people actually care about this issue?

    November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • molly

      Hey – don't break our stride!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  3. JW

    CNN couldn't even come up with a good picture for the editorial. All the sign says is go out and vote, future is in your hands. You'd probably find the same message on a public library sign.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  4. Denny

    Lynn is an out of touch idiot. Who allowed him to post this crap online anyway?

    November 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    (True) Christianity has one great advantage: It is not bigoted.

    Look at Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, Catholics and the like. They only love you if you are a member of their cult or if they want to convert you. They will never love you just because you are a human being with human dignity.

    The simple unselfish love towards everybody is the greatest challenge for us. Actually we need two things: A mean which suppresses the germ of lust in us, and a mean which makes us loving people. Solution: By Jesus death we can overcome our lust, and by Jesus resurrection we can love. If you want to be a loving man or woman then simply get sacramentally baptized or remember your infant baptism. Through baptism you get connected with Jesus, with his death and resurrection.

    What manifests human dignity?

    Answer: Jesus Christ died for the whole mankind, for everybody independent from belief, nationality, color, status, etc..

    Of course, someone is only a Christian, if he believes that Christ died also for him, and improves his life through Jesus' power but nevertheless even if he doesn't believe God has expressed his love to him through the sacrifice of his son. I don't have to judge my neighbour for his disbelief but I only have to focus on the fact that God offers love to my neighbour, and I also should offer love.

    My task as a Christian isn't it to convert my neighbour but to love him because God yet loved him so much that God gave his Son for him. True Christian love is independent from the conversion of the neighbour.

    Furthermore at Judgement Day one will only come through when his life has improved. Hence, I cannot insist on my creed but I will be asked how I behaved, and how I treated my fellow human beings.

    Hence, we should favour Christianity because it is the most civilized faith which promotes peace and righteousness among all people.

    http://confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    At Judgement Day God will not ask you how many times you went to Mekka or to Rome, or if you have read the Bible all the time, or if you have honored the elders of your church, etc. He only will ask you if you have loved Him and your neighbour.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • AvdBergism source of filthy RainerBraendleinism©

      Nice intention, but much of Christianity is bigot.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry "Rainer Braendein", but your assertion that Christianity is not bigoted is a falsehood.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Mittology

      As I responded in the other place I saw this posted. The fuss over both candidates' religion in fact shows that christians are bigoted.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • JFCanton

      Some. But some atheists are bigoted, or the equivalent-protesting against being in a church, a temple, a mosque, etc., as some on this board are, is simply not rational.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  6. John

    Churches are a place to worship the living God who is higher than any government it is a privilege to have them as a place of worship and a place to gather together to cast our votes. One Nation under God!!!

    November 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Ann

      Thanks for helping to illustrate why they shouldn't be used as polling places.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  7. Malarchy

    We have court appointed republican poll sitters being physically thrown out of their posts, others being threatened by violence, certain poll sitters violating the law by openly supporting a candidate, and your worried about the location you cast your vote.

    Word to the wise. Don't worry about cleaning up the kitchen when the house is on fire. The democratic party as a whole has become a narissistic, racist hate group who's only goal seems to be to divide this nation. And they are very effective and reaching their goal. This is coming from a fool who bought into the hope and change four years ago.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Catherine

      So Republican's definition of compromise is having the other side agree with you on everything? I don't have any particular feeling about a polling place being in a church as long as they follow the rules about electioneering. However, I wonder how it would be received if some of those polling places were placed in Mosques. Would you be just as comfortable going into an Islamic house of worship as you are a Christian's? All the same to me, but I can already hear many Tea Partiers flipping out.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Mittology

      Examples? Are these the same people whose sole intent is to gum up the process by feeding misinformation and challenging votes in precincts that are expected to vote democratic? More GOP vote suppression in fact.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Oneslydragon

      Did you read the whole aritcle? Fox actually reported that there is blame on both sides, the GOP for appointing the offials on short notice, there was disagrement on seats occupied by "stand-in's"
      C/P from the article.
      "It happens all the time," Voigt said. He said court-appointed Republican officials typically show up on Election Day and end up squaring off against stand-in officials at the polling sites filling in the open seats. Part of the problem, he said, is that the Republican inspectors are appointed on relatively short notice, leading to a string of confrontations on Election Day.

      that tells me the GOP is at fault, if omne wants to assign fault becuast they waited so long, like the saying goes, shuffle your seat, lose your seat. They they get upset after they show up late, as indicated and someone else has been appointed? Sounds like gamemanship on both sides.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  8. Ayrton

    This is why i'm ashamed to be an american. All that we can do is bicker and fight. It wouldn't even bother me all that muchif we could at least stay on topic and discuss causes and effects but we have to resort to bashing religious and personal beliefs.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Denny

      Well said! I completely agree. The bickering and finger pointing is beyond ridic.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • jamesr1976

      Really, you'd think that we could all manage to show just a little civility, honesty, and decency on this one day every 4 years and appreciate what a blessing and privilige it is to live in a country where we can still vote.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  9. JW

    Useless article. I stop by my local school to vote, where there are 50+ lawn signs on my way in and supporters from various political candidates/issues hounding me on the way in (but not too close of course). Talk about feeling unwelcome. Give your sensitivities a break, Americans have backbone and if they took the time to vote, they'll show up and cast their vote how they see fit.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  10. Rainer Braendlein

    Look at Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, Catholics and the like. They only love you if you are a member of their cult or if they want to convert you. They will never love you just because you are a human being with human dignity.

    What manifests human dignity?

    Answer: Jesus Christ died for the whole mankind, for everybody independent from belief, nationality, color, status, etc..

    Of course, someone is only a Christian, if he believes that Christ died also for him, and improves his life through Jesus' power but nevertheless even if he doesn't believe God has expressed his love to him through the sacrifice of his son. I don't have to judge my neighbour for his disbelief but I only have to focus on the fact that God offers love to my neighbour, and I also should offer love.

    My task as a Christian isn't it to convert my neighbour but to love him because God yet loved him so much that God gave his Son for him. True Christian love is independent from the conversion of the neighbour.

    Furthermore at Judgement Day one will only come through when his life has improved. Hence, I cannot insist on my creed but I will be asked how I behaved, and how I treated my fellow human beings.

    Hence, we should favour Christianity because it is the most civilized faith which promotes peace and righteousness among all people.

    http://confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    At Judgement Day God will not ask you how many times you went to Mekka or to Rome, or if you have read the Bible all the time, or if you have honored the elders of your church, etc. He only will ask you if you have loved Him and your neighbour.

    The simple unselfish love towards everybody is the greatest challenge for us. Actually we need two things: A mean which suppresses the germ of lust in us, and a mean which makes us loving people. Solution: By Jesus death we can overcome our lust, and by Jesus resurrection we can love. If you want to be a loving man or woman then simply get sacramentally baptized or remember your infant baptism. Through baptism you get connected with Jesus, with his death and resurrection.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Topher

      Dude, what religion are you?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  11. JR

    "No public library, public school or town hall would display such material next to the voting machines. No government building would have a towering cross in the voting area"...oh really? How about this material:http://www.foxnews.com/ – lovely mural, and it's definitely NOT in a church. How is that appropriate?? A Romney mural would be equally inappropriate, by the way.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  12. God's Oldest Dreamer

    People can be emotionally unbalanced for looking at a church and being unable to overcome their uneasiness should they have to vote in one. Relax. Being paranoid is not too uncommon an issue with many folks fearing things that cannot harm them.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      God's Oldest, churches have harmed millions of people.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Apple Bush

      What parts of society haven't done harm to another of society's many parts?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Topher

      Whom has my church harmed?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      @God's Oldest Dreamer

      So your take is, others hurt people so it is ok for me too. Nice.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      I was speaking 'historically' minded,,,even though you point out that people do hurt one another and you are not wrong in projecting that one should do no harm despite whatever the issues are even, for-the-moment meetings.Fine.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Topher – I don't know about your specific church, but -

      Anytime a church has told a gay person they are not worthy of the same civil rights as aa straight person, the church causes harm.

      Any time a chirch has told a black person they are not worthy of the same civil rights as a white person, the church causes harm.

      Every time a church has told a woman they are not worthy of the same civil rights as a man, the church has caused harm.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  13. Apple Bush

    If you are like me and get physically ill when going into a church, it does matter a lot where my polling place is.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • JR

      You are adorable – let's hope they have polling places in the future where you won't become physically ill...

      November 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Taggart

      If walking into a church makes you "ill," then you are obviously some sort of bigot, and I don't see why we need to accomodate you bigotry. I voted in a church this morning, and it didn't influence my vote in any way. I would have just as happily voted in a mosque, synagogue, Hindu temple, or in an atheist's home. The normal use of the building makes no difference to people who aren't bigots.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  14. Ed

    I don't like teacher unions or principles – so I should not have to vote in a school. I don't like books or librians – so I should not have to vote in a library. Someone will always compalin about anything. When voting you are doing an action – it doesn't matter where that action takes place. Be in in a building that happens to be a school, church, warehouse, bar, etc. – the purpose is to vote not identify with or be "insulted" by a building. People just need to grow up and then act like grown-ups.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  15. Robbie

    I'm a pagan, and I have no problem walking into a church to cast my vote. As much as I hate Islam, I would cast my vote in a mosque if that were my assigned polling place. Really, this hypersensitivity about Christianity is getting out of hand. Grow a pair.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  16. Meatwad

    I went to vote at the church and they didn't have any damn cookies. Where are the Grandma's?

    November 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      We were looking for nuts.There were lots of nuts.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • CS

      Stupid squirrels.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  17. setnommarih

    Churches usually have decent parking and easy access to a large enough room. I am an atheist and I have no problem voting in a church. How weak must you be that you can't vote your conscience?

    November 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Ann

      No one's saying that the setting will change the mind of someone who's already firm in their decision. It's the ones in the middle that are vulnerable to manipulation. You're an atheist, so being in a church won't change your mind. But what about the still-sorta-religious-but-not-devout voter who's having trouble deciding on a particular candidate or issue? It's unfair to force them to make their final decision in an atmosphere that can be full of pressure to vote a certain way.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  18. jon68

    Barry Lynn displays a typical liberal/progressive mindset that citizens can't think for themselves and that the government has to be their nanny. Voters are adults. Liberals just want to control where everyone goes, what everyone eats, how much money we can make or have. Enough already!!

    November 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Oneslydragon

      From Mike's like to a fox story.

      Operators of a Philadelphia polling place have been ordered by a judge to cover up a mural of President Obama that is emblazoned on a wall behind the voting machines.
      The mural was being covered by voter instruction posters - after Republicans voiced concerns that the painting could influence voters.
      Guess there is more to this theory than meets your eyes.
      Same articale.
      Elsewhere in the city, a representative from the New Black Panther Party was also spotted outside a polling site. The New Black Panthers stirred controversy in 2008 when members appeared outside a polling site, one of them holding a billy club. The representative seen Tuesday morning was not armed.
      But they do not report about simplar situation where whites intimdate young, old, minorities as I personally wittnessed in Columbia SC in the past

      November 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Bet

      Yes, let's leave telling people what to eat, wear, do and think to religion instead. It's worked so well in the past.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Mike

    Oh, the polling place should be neutral? I agree. Let's worry about the blatant stuff like this: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/11/06/judge-issuing-order-to-reinstate-booted-philadelphia-election-officials/

    November 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Oh yes because Fox news is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo impartial with their news.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Chris B.

      @hawaiiguest: Did you even bother to read the article or did you just blurt out whatever bit of stupid was on the tip of your tongue?

      November 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Mike

      I never said they were impartial. Use your own two eyes and look at the mural of Obama behind a voting machine.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Malarchy

      Hawaiiguest, facts are facts, doesn't matter which source reports them. What you should be concerned about is why other unnamed news sources are not reporting these violations of the law.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • JFCanton

      Well, there's a line between news and sensationalism. If Fox wants to be the one to report it, fine. There are surely shenanigans from the other side that the MSM is *also* not reporting.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Oneslydragon

      From the article:
      "It happens all the time," Voigt said. He said court-appointed Republican officials typically show up on Election Day and end up squaring off against stand-in officials at the polling sites filling in the open seats. Part of the problem, he said, is that the Republican inspectors are appointed on relatively short notice, leading to a string of confrontations on Election Day.

      Please note that may be because of GOP officials appointing these individuals late that could be leading to the confusion. If Fox left that in, there must be much more they are not stating that led the lead person to maybe think they were not who they said they were. Maybe this was a GOP game to stir up controversy, would not be the 1st time either side has done or will do something like this.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  20. Dev

    I totally agree that we should not use places of worship for polling. I am not a christian and I don't want to go to a church to cast my vote. There are plenty of schools and libraries in my area and they were not used for polling. It is time to make the change.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Jeff

      Religious views cast your vote for you about as much as the people outside the polls decide your vote. God help us all if you are unable to make your own decision and are swayed that easily.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.