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.
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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.
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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.
Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.
Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.
All of these houses of "worthless worship" should be voluntarily converted to recreation facilities, polling station, parks and/or parking lots.
Reality = BULL SH IT
The churches don't run the polling places. The churches simply provide the physical facility, a room large enough with associated parking lot, etc. And they do this for free. In fact, it costs the church to open the facility, climate-control it, clean it, etc. And all of those voting machines are plugged into the church's electric meter too. Churches do this as a way to "give back" to the community, a civic thing. If you can't see that and understand it, then you really are dense.
Not to mention we politically control the churches and have ever since Falwell gave them to us. Romney / Ryan 2012
Since they don't pay taxes, the least that they could do is pay for the polling place.
Which churches? You idiot, you can't control your own bowels.
Under president Romney we won't have to we will have 47 % peasants like you to clean up our mess. Romney / Ryan 2012
Who's going to change your diapers, Ronnie?
Your teeth as usual tom. Romney / Ryan 2012
Lame, even for you, Ronnie/captain azzhole. Better improve your game, fvcktard. You're not winning.
I'm sorry is where you vote really an issue! The churches are not beating religion down your throat. It's just a place to vote, you winny baby atheist!. How about a crack house downtown in the hood, would that make you athiest feel better!
So you say, but would you feel just as comfortable casting your vote at a Planned Parenthood office?
Our mosques are all open for voting.
Under president Romney where are you going to find a planned parenthood office? Romney / Ryan 2012
A. Ain't gonna be no President Romney
b. Everywhere. Romney will never get anything like that through a Democratic senate
Under president Romney where are you gonna find a democratic senate? Romney / Ryan 2012
The average democratic senator will run buck naked down Pennsylvania Avenue in January for a couple of bucks, less if you ply the sob with a little hooch. Romney / Ryan 2012
You'll find the Democratic senate in the senate. Just like you will find the Democrat in the White House when all the hollering stops.
Suck on that, Tea boy!
I fell for a Poe. Damnit!!
Under president Romney all mosques will have a new designation – parking lots. Romney / Ryan 2012
Under President Romney, Christian churches will have a new name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
George have you been with us all along. (wait until all the votes are cast we have to humor R-y -a -n ) Romney / Ryan 2012
The churches aren't beating religion down our throats? Then why are marriage rights unavailable to a large percentage of the consenting adult population? Why is Roe v. Wade such an issue? Why are women being told what kind of medical care they can have?
Strip clubs are generally not doing much business during polling hours. They ought to use them instead.
After an hour waiting in line to vote, I'd be so googleplexed that I'd be sticking my few remaining dollars in the voting machine, hollering "Work your vote-getter, baby!"
Down in Mississippi I'm sure the KKK has a few halls they'd be willing to offer up.
That's funny–not doing much in the strip club during polling hours.
I doubt that they would make their facilities available. Remember, it costs the host to host a polling place. If nothing else, it costs to open to facility up, provide heat and lights, make restrooms available, and to clean up afterwords. A for-profit business probably doesn't want to take on those costs.
Churches in the south are KKK halls. Romney / Ryan 2012
Ronnie=very special student
@ ORChuck – Are you kidding? As a business owner, I would HAPPILY have the costs and headaches of having voting in my business. If you get people to walk into a store, a sizable proportion will come back later as potential customers. It's great advertising. Getting people to walk in the door in the first place is really important, especially locals who might be repeat customers.
I'd have shacks, a flyer for a discount next time you come in, all that.
Then, You really take privacy seriously – shacks! I had 3-sided plastic on a stool (as in diner stool).
You are willing to invite the 47 % that vote democrat into your store? You had better up your shoplifting security about 47 % then. Romney / Ryan 2012
Shoplifting is a really big deal with you, isn't it, Ronnie?
Why is that?
This is seriously the first time I've ever posted in a CNN article, but it is also the first time I've completely disagreed with the journalist writing the story. I come from a small town in Iowa, where churches are pretty much the only places where one can vote. I rarely attend church, yet have barely realize I'm voting in one. This "journalist" is disillusioned by a mental image of perhaps a mega church, etc. Whereas these small-town churches are often serving a myriad of functions (day care, meeting places, schooling). What this "journalist" suggests is not only completely off base, but actually endangers the political system by robbing clear, noticeable, and adequate voting places.
And for the record, in case no one picked up on it...I'm fairly liberal. And not all that religious. Maybe we need to think about what we are saying next time instead of just going for shock value, huh CNN?
Also, another thought, if it is soo offensive to vote in a church, why not early vote at (usually) a courthouse or perhaps send in for an absentee ballot? I think this whole issue is overblown.
This cat is spot on. I'm a Catholic and was forced to vote in an Episcopal Church (actually in the school cafeteria). I came out of there a Baptist.
Because advertising never works. That's why billions are spent on it, and you find it everywhere. That's why Christians want to put crosses up on hills and stuff.
They don't even need the words, just the logo. Cross or swoosh, it all works.
Subconcious influence and overt advertising are greatly different things, Mad Man. Advertising works because it is designed to do so, both overtly and subconsciously. By your logic, seeing all of these crosses covering the hills and valleys and buildings of our nation would turn every citizen into a religious fanatic (that apparently wears Nikes). In my experience, most people I know are not religious fanatics and very few of them (including me) wear Nikes.
That's how advertising work, you idiot. It entices a few. It's not like it brainwashes. But it definitely works.
And I have news for you – go into that church where the pollong is happening, and ask the pastor if he hopes some of the voters might become parishioners. Guess what he is going to say? Yep, churches allow voting in the hopes of attracting potential laity.
"Pollong?" And I'm an idiot. Hmmm. Had you read and understood my response, you would note that I acknowledge that advertising works. I just don't accept the assertion that seeing a cross or some other religious symbol will influence how someone votes. And if it does, so what. If someone is that easily influenced then I'm guessing the presence of some inanimate object where they vote is the least of their problems.
"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."
If this is the case, then why were there signs in my polling place that said "No discussion of politics" while volunteers wore shirts advocating a prominent political union in town? Priming happens on both sides of the political spectrum. Let's be real here.
Where were these volunteers? In the room with the voting machines? Or were they outside the polling site?
I tend to agree that those shirts are inappropriate.
Unfortunately, some of the people doing the supposedly-neutral work of handling elections are not neutral, and are looking for ways to pervert the results. Both sides do it, because it is politics. I would say in recent years, the right has been more aggressive about it in general, but there is no way to look at Chicago politics and say the left doesn't go scummy too.
What, still no answer, Karen? Were the volunteers IN the room with the voting machines? Or outside, where such activities are legal?
Awwww, what's a matter widdle winny poo – you 'fraid some of dat nasty ol' religion gone rub off on you if you go through da door of da church . . . huh? Poor widdle winny poo, don't cry – Momma be round to change your diaper weal soon now and put you down with your teddy bear and bottle. . . .
Good name. Archie Bunker was an bitter angry ignorant right-wing narrow-minded intolerant hater.
It fits you!
You're the poster child for religious idiocy.
How the hell is it LEGAL for them to have posters on their position on issues in the place during polling? Aren't voters not even allowed to wear things in support of whatever?
You will be voting in one of our Scientology centers next election, but don't worry . . .
If it's good for us, it's good for you.
What's good for me isn't necessarily and vice versa. Eating the sh!t of other's baloney leaves much to be desired.
Have peace, Islam on earth, DUMP hINDUISM, DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE.
Faith in hindu Mormon ism is nothing but faith in hindu Moran ism, filthy self center ism, Romany have some guts to defend his hinduism, racism in front of people. Give hindu Magi' criminal trickster, deserving shoe in his mouth.
DUMP hINDU FABRICATION MITHRA ISM, SAVIOR ISM, CHRISTIANITY, VOTE FOR TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD
Eliminate hindu Judaism, filthy secular ism to have peace, Islam among humanity. hindu's blinded leading hindu, blinded, game of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters to stay in business of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, let it be hindu's, ignorant preachers, speaking not of truth absolute GOD, nor hindu atheist, ignorant self centered, secular s. rode with a hindu blinded driver, BET ON A WRACK, YOU WILL NEVER LOOSE.
Expect nothing better but mayhem among humanity by following of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, Allah, and following of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism, neither commanded, nor allowed in Islam as a religion, but Theen Allah, consti tution of truth absolute. Foundation of American consti tution.
hindu Mithra ism, savior ism invented little over 100 years after Sydana Mohammad pbh by tribes of Kujar of north Africa and imposition as Fatmid Khalaphit by force by denial of Hidth and Quran, justified by hindu Judaism, pagan secularism to impose hinduism, racism by hindu, fabricated relationship with Family of Syadana Mohammad pbh to justify existence of hindu criminal Kings, a violation of fundamental commandment, human equality under the LA. truth absolute Allah. Cause of conflict among Muslim's and cause of down fall of Muslim's and Islam in Spain.
Sunisim, invented by Turk's by corruption of Quran and hidth to justify existence of hindu King's as Khalipha, after death of Ruler Mohammad, but later renamed, Mehmmat, wisdom of spirit of truth by siblings from his Armenian wife, follower of hindu pagan Mithra ism, savior ism in 13th century.
Christianity, invented by hinduism,. corruption of truth absolute by hindu Pharisees, pagan self centered, follower of hindu filthy pig ism by corrupted Torah, known as Greek Torah, translated and commented by Ben Asheer in 250 AD in Yiddish, secularist, self centered language, also known as Old Testament, part of book of Mithra ism labeled as Bible. A way to justify hindu criminal Kings and self proclaimed Prophets, fortune tellers as god's to rule over humanity.
JUDAISM, Self center ism, pig ism, or Atheism, invented by hindu's pagan's of Egypt by corruption of truth absolute in Torah to Justify hindu pagan Pharaoh's and their hindu pagan Santans, goons as god's to rule over humanity with impunity.
HAVE hINDUISM, CORRUPTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, RELIGIONS AND LIVE WITH MAYHEM, AS HAS BEEN THE CASE FROM hIND, DARK AGES TILL TODAY. FOLLOW THEEN ALLAH, CONSTI TUTION OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE, ALLAH , GOD AND THE LORD, FOUNDATION OF CONSTI TUTION OF AMERICA TO HAVE PEACE AMONG HUMANITY. To learn more please visit truthisthelimit.com
word hindu is based on Latin word hindered, negative, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity.
Visit limitisthetruth.com to learn about hinduism, criminality of hindu's, criminals to impose hinduism, racism on humanity by hinduism, corruption of truth absolute by force.
You are absolutely insane.
If brains were propane, you wouldn't have enough to prime a pi$$ ant's motorbike and drive it twice around a cheerio!
Really? What next? If you're illiterate, might you object to having a polling place in a school? Yet another indication that western civilization is in trouble...
Western civilization has never been better, thank you very much. Great medicine, a much higher level of prosperity that even 50 years ago, less oppression of marginalized groups, freer laws, and more.
There has always been economic turmoil, but you should have seen how much worse it was before 1940!
If you could pick any era of history to live in, this would be about the best. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to manipulate your vote.
So you say, but would the same people that believe voting in a church is not a biased location feel just as comfortable casting their vote at a Planned Parenthood office?
Any facility that can accommodate a nice size group of people, be it a club, school, church, mosque, basilica, cathedral, temple, synagogue, community center, retirement community, whatever should be able to be used as a polling place. Is the author objecting to the sign? "Go out and vote – future in our hands" - that's the problem? Maybe someone was persuaded to vote a certain way while in the building at a different time; is that the problem? Honestly, I'm trying to understand the argument against using these facilities. They are places where people gather; that's what they're designed for. My point is that every potential gathering place may have had activities or conversations that someone disagrees with. So I repeat: if we have reached a point where we can't tolerate the people around us, we are in trouble.
You know.. just because you step into a church building to cast your vote doesn't mean anyone is going to make you pray. It's OK. Really, it is. And, no.. I'm not a religious. Haven't stepped into a church in years outside of attending weddings and funerals. It's just not a big deal, you know? Get over it.
In a country where we pride ourselves on the separation of church and state, it is more than ironic that churches are "pressed into service" as polling places. I'm sure that plenty of other places without a religious affiliation are available. Makes you wonder – Is this i part the result of conservative-leaning local election officials trying to skew the outcomes?
Just shut your eyes and hold your breath. I'll bet none rubs off on you that way.
Yes... that is definitely one of several factors.
For all the Christians saying it doesn't matter, see you in the neighborhood mosque next year...
"next year" or two,,, :-(
Or as someone else suggested, planned parenthood.
Prayer changes things .
"Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
"Salvatore" degenerates to:
"Douglas" degenerates to:
"truth be told" degenerates to:
"Thinker23" degenerates to:
"Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
"another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
"Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
"tina" degenerates to:
"captain america" degenerates to:
"Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
"Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
"just sayin" degenerates to:
"ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
"Kindness" degenerates to:
"Chad" degenerates to
"Bob" degenerates to
"nope" degenerates to:
"2357" degenerates to:
"WOW" degenerates to:
"fred" degenerates to:
"!" degenerates to:
This troll is not a christian.
Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs
Did I vote? No. Have I ever voted? No. My being close to 58 and having never voted, I see the world has been doing just fine without my casting a vote. To cast or not to cast, that is my conundrum. Maybe come 2016. Maybe not. no biggie! Politics is but a drag upon many individual & social freedoms not sanctioned yet should be lawful. Who among you has cast their lots and come up emptied by voting for the loser? Does voting for a winner bring you fullfillment? If so what kind of fullfillment(s)? Will your winner bring you happiness? Love? Maybe tormentual strife with a splash of urine. "Group Hug Time."
You didn't vote because you're just plain lazy.
Go see the show Cabaret (or rent the film version)...
Tom, I just love it when your mean to me!
Love Let Us,
I'm not "mean" to you, dip wad. I just call your bullish!t whenever I see it.
Well ain't Tom special! ?
This may be the first time I've ever been glad to hear that someone didn't vote. One less vote for the american taliban.
Obviously Barry you have a very low opinion of people if you think that being in a Church building long enough to vote will influence their vote. How stupid do you think most people are? Sitting in a church for years hasn't influenced most people's lives one bit. A couple of minutes isn't going to harm them. Get a real life.
Voting in church is irrelevant. Voting in schools should be banned. Mixing voting with school pickups and drop offs along with bus traffic creates havoc and plus there is no parking. All of the parking is restricted to teachers with only two visitor spots, no parking in front because it is a fire lane. No driving or parking in the bus lanes. It's a nightmare! If I had to vote in a school, I wouldn't vote.
"And the area where the voting occurs should be cleansed of all religious symbols."
How 'bout we scour the city of billboards and other commercial advertisements first? Businesses have trillions of dollars invested in shaping my decisions and I have NO protection against that. Once you get business out of my face, then we can talk about whether churches should "cleanse" themselves to protect me from their ideology once every four years. :P
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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.