A professing atheist and agnostic group that works to separate Church and State has sent letters to two municipalities to express its belief that houses of worship shouldn’t be polling places.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently wrote to officials in Palm Beach County, Florida and Washington County, Arkansas to outline its views.
“As our country becomes more religiously diverse, Christian images and iconography are increasingly seen by many as symbols of political intimidation,” it wrote to the Washington County Election Commission, noting that 16 of 17 polling places in the county are churches.
“Selecting churches as polling places can serve to unduly influence voters to vote in a particular way that they might not otherwise,” the letter continued. “This is especially true if the voters themselves are promoting or demonizing a particular side of an issue.”
FFRF said that non-believers might also feel intimidated in viewing religious messages on display at houses of worship as it could cause them to sense that they are outsiders.
In Palm Beach County, local citizens had complained about the Islamic Center of Boca Raton being used as a polling place, resulting in the location being changed. But FFRF says that the government shouldn’t use any religious facilities at all for elections.
“We … understand that the county uses numerous Christian and Jewish synagogues as polling places. To our knowledge, those venues were not changed,” it wrote. “[But] many of the concerns expressed to you over the summer regarding the mosque are the same ones FFRF receives from freethinkers and nonbelievers who are forced to vote in churches. They feel uneasy entering a church to cast their ballot.”
FFRF therefore asked that these counties use secular facilities as polling places to prevent discomfort.
“The supervisor of elections has the great responsibility of assuring compliance with election laws and selecting polling places accessible to the public but which will remain free of intimidation and voter discomfort,” it stated. “Given your authority and the need to protect the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of state and church, FFRF strongly urges you to remove all houses of worship as polling places for future elections.”
“There are many secular options—like public schools, firehouses, public libraries, or even private businesses—which could accommodate voters and be relied on not to abuse voter trust,” the group suggested.
It is not yet known whether either county plans to respond.
Founding Father Gouverneur Morris, one of the authors and signers of the U.S. Constitution, once said:
“There must be religion. When that ligament is torn, society is disjointed and its members perish. The nation is exposed to foreign violence and domestic convulsion. Vicious rulers, chosen by vicious people, turn back the current of corruption to its source. Placed in a situation where they can exercise authority for their own emolument, they betray their trust. They take bribes. They sell statutes and decrees. They sell honor and office. They sell their conscience. They sell their country. … But the most important of all lessons is the denunciation of ruin to every state that rejects the precepts of religion.”