There is a law that people aren’t allowed to engage in “politicking” a certain distance from the polling place. This is to keep the people trying to convince you to vote for their candidate outside the polling place and to allow the people to vote without the immediate influence of someone whispering in their ear as they vote. You can’t wear a campaign shirt or button in the polling place. But what if the polling place itself engages in politicking?
This year we have the first Mormon candidate for president and it is entirely possible that the polling place could very well be a Mormon Temple. If you are a Mormon who is undecided or is on the fence, could the fact that the polling place is a Mormon Temple sway you to vote for Mitt Romney? What if you are a recovering Mormon and your polling place is in a Mormon Temple; could that discourage you from voting all together?
How outraged would you be if your polling place was inside a Church of Scientology Auditing Center? Oh don’t worry, they aren’t allowed to engage is auditing while you are voting, but they are allow to have all kinds of signs and banners promoting Scientology all over the place.
While as far as I know, there aren’t any polling places inside a Mormon Temple or inside a Church of Scientology Auditing Center there very well could be at some point. In fact, the case could easily be made since government must remain neutral, if polling places are allowed to be inside Catholic Churches and other Christian Churches they must also allow them in Mormon Temples and Scientology Auditing Centers. To restrict polling places from those religious centers would be elevating one religion over another and that would be in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Currently, the Catholic Church is a polling place in many areas. One of the polling places in my town is in a Catholic Church for example. So let’s look at whether or not the Catholic Church engages in politicking. Recently the Church has been extremely vocal in their campaign against Obama over the contraception mandate. It has become a major issue in the campaign. The Church has also always been extremely pro-life and anti-gay too. Both are positions which Romney shares and that Obama does not.
The Church can put up signs that promote their beliefs on these issues. They just can’t tell people to vote for Candidate X. They can however tell people to vote for the candidate who supports “life.” Or they could put up a sign like this one that say, “Stand up for religious freedom,” in which it is implied that the sign is encouraging people to vote against Obama:
Is that politicking or is that just expressing a religious belief? The very fact that a polling place is in a Church comes with the baggage of that church even if there were no signs at all. Plus, what if I am a recovering Catholic or someone who was a victim of a Catholic priest’s sexual advances? I might not feel comfortable voting in a Catholic Church. The very fact that a polling place is in a Catholic Church might disenfranchise voters.
While I am 100% comfortable voting in any religious institution, I can understand how some people might not. Ask a religious right believer to go vote in a Mosque, for example. For me, voting in a religious institution is unlikely to sway my vote in the slightest. But I’m not the only one voting.
There are people out there who go to church every week and hear all the rhetoric. They don’t think about politics much and are undecided up until they get to the voting booth. They like some of the things that Romney says and some of the things that Obama says. They honestly don’t know who to vote for. But here they are walking into a church and that reinforces the rhetoric of their church. So they look around them and see that their vote is private, but then they look up at the invisible man in the sky and think to themselves, “I better vote the way my pastor wants me to because that is probably what God wants and He is watching my private vote.”
If your local polling place is in a church, please contact the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center at firstname.lastname@example.org