I voted in a new polling place yesterday, in my new community of Portland, Maine. The polls were in a church. And the church wanted me to embrace Jesus.
Many polling places are in churches. In this case, the building was actually a gym attached to the church. What surprised me, though, was that in addition to the American flag, the polling place featured an 8-foot banner featuring the words “All in for Jesus,” along with a citation to a bible verse (Philippians 3:12-15).
Does Jesus belong in the polling place?
Let’s examine the question of religious signage in a polling place
I have no problem with voting in a church. I do have a problem with evangelistic signage. Not all American voters are Christians. Some are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists. They’re here to vote. Advertising for candidates or issues doesn’t belong inside the polling place. Neither does advertising for commercial products. And neither does advertising for any religion.
In Arlington, Massachusetts, where I previously lived, polling took place in an elementary school gym. But when that school was under construction one year, the polling was moved to the rectory of a Catholic Church. Someone had covered up the picture of the pope hung on the wall.
From reactions I got to posting this photo on Facebook, it appears this method is common; when people vote in a church, the election workers typically cover up overtly religious signage.
Perhaps you think this is just woke posturing. After all, this is a nation founded mostly by Christians. But we try to keep religion out of government. The First Amendment specifies that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” We prohibit prayer in schools. And the Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky courthouses had to remove framed displays of the Ten Commandments.
Like schools and courthouses, polling places are an apparatus of the government, and should be free of displays favoring any religion, or religion in general.
Ask yourself, would you be okay with:
- A polling place in a mosque, with a poster there describing Allah’s prescription for punishing infidels?
- A polling place in a synagogue, with a poster featuring a quote regarding false messiahs?
- A polling place in a university with a poster regarding the number of people who have died in the name of religion?
Let’s make a simple rule
You could attempt to make a ruling on each possible display, but I that’s going to be complicated to judge.
It’s a lot simpler to say that posters or symbology promoting religion don’t belong in polling places. I’d like to maximize the ease of voting for those who are registered.
It’s not a question of offending people. If the people at my neighborhood church want to stand on the street outside their church on any day other than election day and shout about Jesus, with posters and refreshments, more power to them. I’m not offended by religious activity or signage in their spaces.
And if somebody comes to vote in the church, likes what they see, and ask questions, I wish the church well in recruiting that person.
But the polling place itself should be free of signage promoting religion (or, for that matter, anything else).
Just take down the poster on election day. It’s no big deal.