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American Humanitst Association Monitor Church Polling Places

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2008
9:57 AM

CONTACT: American Humanist Association
(202) 238-9088

 
Humanists Monitor Church Polling Places
 

WASHINGTON, DC - January 31 - The American Humanist Association announced today that, during the presidential primaries, it is encouraging its 10,000 members and 110 local chapters and affiliates nationwide to take special note of those polling places that are set up in churches. "We are on the lookout for politicized religious propaganda and blatant religious symbolism that may influence voters," declared American Humanist Association President Mel Lipman, a civil-liberties attorney and professor of constitutional law. "We stand ready to take legal action wherever a religiously charged and politically biased atmosphere is created at the polls."

Through its legal arm, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the Association filed just such a suit in November 2006. The case, Rabinowitz v. Anderson, involved Emmanuel Catholic Church in Delray Beach, Florida. Plaintiff Jerry Rabinowitz had been assigned to vote there and alleged that, to enter the polling place, he found it necessary to walk past a church-sponsored "pro-life" banner framed by multiple giant crosses. Then, in the voting area itself, he observed many religious symbols in plain view, both surrounding the election officials and in direct line above the voting machines. Though not prevailing in that case, the legal center has honed its arguments and vows to relaunch the litigation in another jurisdiction. (Further details of this case are available online at http://www.humanistlegalcenter.org/cases/cp/cppressrelease.html.)

Churches are the most common polling locations in America. Some states and local governments have rules that require the covering of religious symbols during such use, but others do not. Lack of sensitivity in this matter has resulted in new complaints, such as one during the Florida primaries last Saturday where an Ormond Beach resident, voting at Prince of Peace Catholic Church, declared she was confronted by rows of white crosses symbolizing "4,000 babies aborted daily in the USA." For the forthcoming Massachusetts primary, religious symbols at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in West Boylston were slated to be covered or removed during voting, but that plan was abandoned when the Secretary of State's office declared no Massachusetts law requires it.

"We want to protect voters and the voting process from anything that may serve to intimidate or unduly influence those entering the polls," noted Bob Ritter, a civil-liberties attorney and legal coordinator for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. "America's polling places should be oases of freedom in a sea of political and social pressure."

Lipman concluded: "Recent studies reveal that environmental cues have a measurable effect on electoral results. Therefore, the government must provide a neutral setting for voters, free from religious or other influences."

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is part of the American Humanist Association. Consisting of over two dozen humanist lawyers and backed by humanists from coast to coast, it is the first nontheistic legal center in the nation's capital.

The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America. Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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