Church-state separatists — and, in particular, atheists — tend to complain about a wide variety of issues pertaining to religious influence in public life. But what about houses of worship doubling as polling locations, a topic that receives little coverage? While many Americans cast their electoral ballots inside schools and other public buildings, some are also required, should they choose to vote in person, to do so inside of church buildings.
This week, CNN took a look at the issue, recapping some perspectives that highlight the pros and cons associated with allowing (or, in some peoples’ words “forcing”) Americans to cast their votes inside houses of worship. While church-state separatists argue that holding official polling inside of these structures constitutes an improper intermixing of faith and governance, other dismiss such a notion.
On one hand, it could be argued that churches simply aren’t appropriate as polling stations. After all, depending on the denomination, associations with more liberal or conservative ideals may be embraced. One could claim that, even if it is rooted in the subconscience, houses of worship might cause voters to second-guess their views on specific issues at the polls.
Still, those supportive of using churches for this purpose would likely dismiss this view, while also highlighting societal roles that religious institutions have traditionally played. From feeding the poor to serving as places of refuge, American houses of worship have a history of helping those in need and serving as community epicenters for change and the betterment of the public welfare.
If churches are so much a part of society — and the local community — that they regularly feed the poor and assist the downtrodden in times of trouble, why should they not also serve as hubs in the electoral process, these critics might ask.
Considering the policy views and political activity that some churches embrace and engage in, though, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is an opposing voice when it comes to answering whether churches should double as polling places.
“All of this church-based political activity makes me uneasy about casting ballots in houses of worship, especially those festooned with political signs,” Lynn wrote in a recent CNN op-ed. “And yet today, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches around the country are being pressed into service as polling places.”
Lynn claims that his group receives regular complaints that churches are used when there is another location — a library, school or community center — that could easily act as a voting locality. Now, the church-state separatist’s concern over influence is certainly an interesting one. After all, consider the Colorado church that served as a polling place this year, while also choosing to leave up its anti-abortion display (an action that captivated headlines).
However, just as concerning as this anecdotal example may be, secular locations also have their problems (i.e. the pro-Obama mural present on the wall at a Philadelphia school). While one could argue that voting in a church may cause individuals to pause and reconsider their views on controversial social issues, wouldn’t voting in a school or library potentially impact voters’ perspective on budgets and funding for these localities (this may be a stretch, but you get the idea).
What do you think? Should churches be used as polling places? Take the poll, below: