My Take: Stop using churches as polling places


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.

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.

Written By: Barry W. Lynn
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  1. I live in a small town, and my place to vote is a church.  Illinois has early voting,
    I went to the Court House.
    My last residence was at our local school.
    Don’t know how I’d feel casting ballots in a christian church. I agree it would not be neutral.

    …cleansed of all religious symbols

    Was that a Freudian slip 😉

  2. For the 30 years I have lived and voted in my suburb of Chicago, the polling place has been a synagogue.  I grant that there is never any political advertising there, nor anything religious besides what is always present, but I still don’t like it,  If it isn’t a foot in the door, it is still a toe.

  3. A church is merely 4 walls w/ a roof – any “feelings” of “influence” exists in the persons own mind ONLY and NOT in the 4 walls… walls don’t talk – if someone is being influenced by these walls they ought to check into a hospital and be treated for schizophrenia or paranoia or the like. If a persons mind is that easily influenced then perhaps they shouldn’t be voting – nor walking the streets… what if they happen upon a crime scene – will they “feel” like they have to be a criminal too? 

    Pleeez! Blaming people, places, and things for one’s own “feelings” really shows how weak minded and fearful humanity has become – a lack of ability to take responsibility for one’s own feelings – a.k.a. “the victim mentality” – is a fundamental condition that underlies every addict, alcoholic, criminal, and bully… as well as those who suffer from depression [suicidal], anger/agression [homicidal], and OCD [phobic]. 

    Also, to be “religion-phobic”is “like” forming another religion which is just a belief system where the object of that belief is worshipped – a phobic worships his fears – pretty sad. A typical first response for those who suffer a “victim mentality” is denial of the cause [i.e. BLAME] thus they will deny their belief system is another form of  religion -BUT a rose by another name is still a rose…they only deceive themselves and at the same time suffer HYPOCRISY!  And to think mankind boasts of how civilised he has become.

  4. The other day I took a drive in the country to gawk at the fall scenery.
    Took a detour to look at a “blink and you’ll miss it” town I’ve always heard about.
    One house had what looked like one of those fake cemetery headstones (halloween).
    Upon further review, it was a 10 Commandments stone. THAT made my blood go cold.

    I’ll never go back.

    Not exactly sure what my point is here – just thought I’d throw it into the ring 😛

  5. A church is a symbol of blind faith and stupidity. It’s a cesspool where all the religious fanatics gather for their day to day brainwash. Christianity has no place in the political process of America, no more than Islam or Judaism should have in the political process of the Middle East. Religions suck the mind and common sense out of the human brain.

  6. Is that what you believe is true? Then I guess you are a religious fanatic also. Politics is in itself a religion filled with its own propaganda [blind faith and stupidity] – it may be the case that the church is a symbol – but so is a every word you speak, as language was made up by mankind, as symbols to represent his own blind faith and stupidity. To attack a symbol using symbols is hypocrisy.

  7. word are symbols – do not deceive yourself – they are just as manmade as all other “religious” beliefs.

  8. what makes my blood go cold is listening to those who want to defend their freedom of speech while  they want to take away that freedom of speech from others – its called hypocrisy – and resembles the symptoms of tyranny and bullies.

  9. I live in the UK. I am an atheist. Every 4 years I cast my vote in a church hall. It is 5 minutes walk from my house. It is the only time I visit it. It is a convenient “public” building that is “hired” by the electoral authorities for a pragmatic purpose. At my last address I voted in a primary school that was closed for the day.  It is preferable to use a church hall than close a primary school on a Thursday, but tens of thousands of “public” buildings of all kinds are “borrowed” for polling day so that urban voters have a polling station within 10 minutes walk of home, and queues are rare.

    What the fuck is the matter with the USA?

  10. Politics is a symbol of the combined effort of humanity to seek truth in promoting support for mankind’s scientific achievements and survival in the universe. Religion is a sick lie, forced on the human psyche thousands of years ago, and is still blinding the mindless who cannot think for themselves. Fortunately, humanity is becoming more educated to the real truth while, mindless religion is gradually fading from the political realm. Humanity deserves better than to subsist under mindless religious dictates that defeat the promotion of human survival.
    Al Garnier

  11. Well, if it’s ok to have polling places in churches then they should start having them in strip clubs as well… 

  12. It is totally irrelevant where one votes from as long as one votes. For me this is just another opportunity to deride religions and their symbols of worship. Within the next 20 years we will have the pleasure of voting from our homes, hopefully on all government decisions. Imagine, a true democracy where everyone has a voice in our future.
    Hypocrisy is the bread and butter of all religions

  13. Sorry but I don’t see the problem here.A church,synogogue,temple whatever, is just a building.If you cannot enter it without problem,a frisson or whatever, that is your problem.It is a building adopted for voting because presumably it is local,convenient and large enough.If it bothers you that there are religious symbols on display you are not the atheist you think you are.I am happy to enter any of these buildings along with monasteries,graveyards , cathedrals or whatever,they are just piles of bricks,nothing more.

  14. If you vote differently because of where you happen to be at the moment, you are an idiot. Put me in a church and see how I vote.

  15. IAMTRUTHRC, what you do is declare many things religion, so that according to you religion’s critics cannot without hypocrisy embrace these other things. Naturally such people disagree with you about how broad is the set of religions. Who’s “right”? It’s a semantic issue, like all uses of words. But to understand the nature of our criticisms of religion, you need to understand what features of them we dislike. Only if we like things with those features are we hypocrites, regardless of what you choose to call those things. In both politics and religion, people are passionate; in both religion and science, people make truth claims. Neither of these are what we complain about. So to make our discussion constructive, try to give us an example of a feature we condemn in religion but tolerate or like elsewhere. Because what features things have aren’t a semantic matter; those are factual matters.


    I think you underestimate your own human frailties let alone that of genuinely impressionable or vulnerable people. Have a look into some of the subconscious things WE ALL DO EVERYDAY before you spend any more time thinking you are unique or better than everyone in the world. You do many things without thought let alone rational thought.Aside from being human, for which you are forgiven, there is also a movement in the US trying to encourage churches to openly endorse a political party. I’m not sure why you would imagine that this is in any way neutral ground, it’s not, whether they are festooned with direct political messages or not. Let’s face it if a person of faith decides they are going to vote for their economic interests but gets to the poling station and sees a “vote for life or go to hell” poster then there is quite literally a real problem, even if it’s only one weak minded soul. It seems obvious to me that sending a deluded soul to a place of worship is an EASY way to catch a few extra votes. I understand this is clearly not you but then the election is for everyone even those who have trouble imagining someone else’s problems.The term “phobic” is attached to the end of words to denote an irrational fear, so for example claustrophobia is an irrational fear of small spaces. Fearing religion is not irrational, it has killed millions over the last 2 thousand years and that was while the “nice” christians were in charge. Be afraid, be very afraid and also try to avoid false equivalencies. 

  17. I think the issue is not folks like yourself, immune to influence from your immediate surroundings.

     I think it’s the question of whether the surroundings influence voters “en masse” (scuse the pun), so as perhaps to skew the result, putting a thumb on the scales if you like, to favor the candidates who say things approved by the religious, especially the political-religious-evangelical-republican fraternity.

    So, while I have no problem with voting in a church (though I might prefer a strip club), I agree that it may not be a neutral venue for ever voter, and that could directly disadvantage the kind of candidate I’d want to support.

  18. 1) A church is just a building.

    2) Anyone who hasn’t already made up their mind prior to entering the polling station doesn’t really deserve to vote anyway.

    3) The democrats won.

  19. I love the Baptist Church sign in the article:

    “Go out and Vote – the future is in Your hands”

    Finally, a church has realised it’s not all in god’s great plan, but the future of humans is in our hands.

  20. Houses of worship, if I’m not mistaken, are exempt from having to comply with the American Disability Act. It seems to me this alone should disqualify a building that has the potential to disenfranchise the handicapped.

    In short, I can think of many reasons why voting booths should not be in such places, but very few reasons why they need to be.


  21. The democratic process happening in a church is a good thing.
    Voting from home? bad idea, the head of a household may/will force everyone else to vote their way.

  22. I don’t mean to insult you but, are you republican? The idea of conspiracy and the big guy forcing their opinion on others is religious Republican thinking. They’ve been doing it since the Union. What if the majority in the household ganged together and told the head of the household to go to hell? That would be a democracy where the majority rules. Like it or not, true democracy is coming to America and all citizens will have their voices heard on important political matters from any convenient terminal. You may be lucky enough to see it in your lifetime.

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