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Churchgoers walk out of church service when an elected official's speech gets too political

Nearly two dozen churchgoers walked out of a service commemorating Selma's "Bloody Sunday" as Alabama's secretary of state pushed the state's voter ID law. (Image source: WSFA-TV)

A group of Alabama churchgoers walked out of church Sunday after an elected official's speech got a little too political.

The historic Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama, welcomed a variety of notable attendees over the weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma 52 years ago, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

Bloody Sunday refers to the march by black people on March 7, 1965, to fight for voting rights. During the march, protesters clashed with police officers who deployed tear gas and beat the marchers with clubs.

But it was Merrill's speech — in which he pushed the state's voter ID laws — that caused some in attendance to walk out of the service.

According to WSFA-TV, Merrill spoke about Alabama's efforts to allow for more people to register to vote and obtain the proper identification to vote.

"We want to make sure that every eligible U.S. citizen that is a resident of Alabama is registered to vote and has a photo ID so they can participate in the electoral process at [the] level that they want to participate," Merrill said.

As heard in video footage from WSFA, several in the audience shouted down Merrill when he brought up voter ID. And others walked out of the service entirely.

North Carolina NAACP President Dr. William Barber, who also spoke at the jubilee, was one of nearly two dozen patrons who walked out of the church, according to a video posted to his Facebook page.

"We cannot be polite about this. We can't be casual or cavalier," Barber told a reporter in the video. "We have more voter suppression in recent years than we've seen since Jim Crow."

Barber told WSFA that leaders are against Alabama's voter ID laws, which requires photo identification to register to vote, because they believe it hinders people of color.

"Standing on this historic ground where people died for voting rights, we cannot accept this hypocrisy of voter suppression," Barber said. "Photo ID ... voter ID is based on the lie of voter fraud. It was not an issue until African-Americans and brown people started voting during the campaign for President [Barack] Obama. It's just like the poll tax. It's being proven in court unconstitutional."

"Too much blood is on the pews of that church and in these walls for us to sit there and not at least say, 'excuse me,' not a cursing, but, 'excuse me, Mr. Secretary of State, you're wrong,'" Brown said.

Merrill's office had set up voter registration tables outside of Brown Chapel that protesters briefly blocked.

Despite the kerfuffle over Merrill's remarks, other speakers promoted peace, unity and activism, WSFA reported.

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