Culture, Politics

Oh Shock & Horror

Jewish Man Upset He Had To Vote At Church
Crucifix Hung Above Ballot Box
November 8, 2006
MIDDLETON, Wis. — In Wisconsin, a Jewish man whose polling place was at a Catholic church said he was disturbed to see a crucifix hanging over a ballot box.
Dr. Zeev Bar-Av of Middleton said issues on Tuesday’s ballot such as gay marriage and the death penalty “are essentially on the national divide on religion and non-religion.”
The 65-year-old Middleton man said, “If there is a place where church and state should be separated, the polling place should be it.”

Full story.
Guess it all depends on whether you believe the church is providing a public service or intentionally setting a dogmatic stage for a voting booth.

11 thoughts on “Oh Shock & Horror

  1. It is about being sensitive to issues like this. Time and again people are so oblivious to others perspective that they do not even realize that what they are doing is inappropriate and makes people feel uncomfortable.
    Crucifixes and other religious icons can be covered up or removed for the event. During the Katrina relief effort in New York City, I ran a clothing mart out the lower chapel of a catholic church. Evacuees came to get new free clothes and in setting up the place we covered up as much of the religious icons and symbols as we could.
    It is in the spirit of things and that is reflected in a multitude of ways. The statement by the election board executive shows a lack of understanding and sensitivity. Or, it could be a bias. Regardless, the issue needs to be addressed within the policies of the election board of Wisconsin.

  2. Interesting — my synagogue is — and has been for quite a while — a polling place in our municpality in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And I haven’t heard an uproar about it.
    Then again, we’re also playing host to a Presbyterian congregation for the better part of the year while their church undergoes major renovations. Even though the large church had the main sanctuary and we were slightly above capacity in the “chapel” on the second day of Sukkot and on Simchat Torah, it was nice to see two communities which were sharing space.
    I think the key here is a bit of common sense when it comes to non-partisan activities in partisan spaces. As per above, there’s no reason why overt religious symbols can’t be covered for the duration of the elections.
    I wonder if the church itself was approached> The article doesn’t mention this.

  3. Churches are where almost all polling stations in my area are located. As an election organizer, it drive me crazy. I appreciate their sense of public service, and encouragement of civic engagement. But ultimately, since polls are very small and localized here (a few hundred voters at each), people usually end up voting at their church.
    So when they mark their ballot, are they responding from a place of intellect, or a place of guilt and/or emotion? Voting in your church, surrounded by your neighbours and fellow parishioners, how much subtle pressure (even unconscious) is exerted to vote on “values questions” that would otherwise be less prominent in your mind if voting in a school (with economic policy your usual issue of importance)?
    Worrying about the influence of polling locations kept me awake at night in a cold sweat for most of the last campaign I worked on, where our opposing candidate was running on “family values”.

  4. I aint never voted in no church. Never would vote in no church, neither. In fact I can’t recall a church being used as a polling place in any place i’ve ever lived. And I used to live in a county populated by hyperconserative Christian fundamentalists. (Of course, this was probably due to the fact that a lot of the churches hated each other)
    Course back there we voted at the SPJST hall, and I don’t think they have those in a lot of places around the country.
    You know, maybe they should put polling booths in Wal Marts. Would probably increase voter turnout.

  5. It’s doesn’t say whether the polling place was in the sanctuary, or a more public room, like a hall. But I would think they would have a little bit of sense and cover up the religeous icons. My last polling place was in an Episcopalian hall, not the church and all the religious items were not in sight. There were drawings, however, from the Sunday School on the wall.

  6. If you feel uncomfortable about the crucifix, that would make you less likely rather than more likely to vote for the more Christian aligned candidates. Which doesn’t seem like such a problem to me.

  7. So when they mark their ballot, are they responding from a place of intellect, or a place of guilt and/or emotion?
    Are we ever? Who knows how many complex factors influence our decisions? We can’t eliminate all of them. It’s probably impossible to create a “value-free” environment. Or do we want only to eliminate those symbols that have come to represent opinions with which we disagree? If the polling place were in a synagogue, would the doctor have objected to the presence of Jewish symbols? What if it were in a Unitarian church, and there were secular humanist mottoes on the walls?
    Are we Jews, or are we vampires?
    Can’t we do both?

  8. As a visiting Catholic, I would note that I have voted in basements, schools both public and parochial, churches, village halls, the backs of stores, libraries, wherever space was available, and never once thought about it. Voting on church property has never had any impact on my thought process.
    As to separation of church and state, the first amendment gives us two protections – the establishment clause (freedom FROM a state established religion) and the free exercise clause (the freedom to exercise our own religious traditions as we see fit) The use of church space as a polling place doesn’t appear to violate either. In the future, however, those who feel the presence of religious symbols might prove offensive or distracting might consider placing a call to the house of worship prior to election day and politely asking whether some covering might be available, or, in the alternative, whether the voting machines might be placed in a part of the facility which is relatively free of such symbols (a lobby versus a sanctuary, for example)
    While I don’t know what would have happened in Middleton, WI, I believe most of the congregations to which I have belonged would attempt to be sensitive to this.

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