Secular Humanists: Church Polling Places Are Unconstitutional
Secular humanists’ position concerning religion stretches beyond actual Constitutional limits, which forbid the national government from establishing a state religion (Bill of Rights, First Amendment, 1789). Humanists propose that the democratic state should govern all parts of life to the complete exclusion and eradication of theistic religion (see Colley, 2007a, Colley, 2007b).
A recent manifestation of this doctrine is a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Florida, by the new Appignani Humanist Legal Center. This lawsuit charges that a church polling place, where citizens voted in the mid-term elections, is unconstitutional. According to the suit,
Upon approaching the entrance to the church to cast his vote, Plaintiff Rabinowitz was forced to walk past a church-sponsored “pro-life” banner (Exhibit A) framed by multiple giant crosses. Plaintiff believes that “being surrounded by religious icons and prayers” set the tone for entering the voting place. This caused him to be “extremely upset at having to cast [his] ballot in a religious setting” (Rabinowitz v. Anderson, 2006, p. 3, parenthetical item in orig.).
According to the lawsuit, Jerry Rabinowitz told the polling officials that he objected to some religious signs in the church and asked that they be removed or covered for the remainder of the voting period (Rabinowitz…, p. 4). “The religious…documents, and banner all remained and there was no effort made to cover or remove the religious materials” (Rabinowitz…, p. 4). The American Humanist Association considers this case vitally important, because “[c]hurches are the most common polling locations in America. Some churches cover their religious symbols at this time out of respect for the principle of government neutrality on religion. But not all do so” (“‘Church Polling Place…’,” 2006).
It will be interesting to hear if, and how, a judge rules in this case. For those of us who defend Christianity, there are several pertinent points. First, consider that simply because the local government uses a church facility as a polling place does not in any way imply that the government endorses any or all doctrines of the group that meets in the building. This political usage of a church building certainly comes nowhere close to establishing any particular religion as the official “town religion” to which citizens must subscribe.
Furthermore, the use of the building in this way does not elevate one religion over another. Quite simply, citizens must vote somewhere. Public officials choose church buildings as voting centers because they are convenient (the locations of church buildings are familiar to community members) and conducive to voting (church buildings often include fellowship halls with tables and chairs), and because theists often are cooperative and very helpful in the voting process, not because public officials wish to establish an official religion for the public.
It simply is a fact that nothing in the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits the usage of a church building in this way. Such usage has been considered constitutional, because it does not foster any “excessive government entanglement with religion” (Rabinowitz…, p. 5)—the religion makes no demands on the state and the state makes no demands on the religion. The religious body merely allows voters to use its facility.
Second, consider that the very development of this case is evidence that people may vote in a church facility without being motivated to vote for any particular legislation. Are we to assume that the religious paraphernalia in the church building somehow forced Mr. Rabinowitz to vote in such a way as to violate his conscience? Did a church member threaten Mr. Rabinowitz with negative consequences if he refused to vote for particular candidates or legislation? For generations, voters have known that the mere fact that polling is held in a church building is no reason for them to vote for or against any particular candidate or legislation. Thankfully, objectors as vociferous as Mr. Rabinowitz are few.
The secularist may argue that a Christian would object if forced to vote, for example, at a branch of Planned Parenthood, the Appignani legal offices, or another building where groups of humanists regularly congregate. Such an observation may be valid. The interpretation that voting in a church building is unconstitutional, however, is invalid. It is utterly impossible that the use of a church’s facility as a polling place is unconstitutional, in view of American history. On June 28, 1787, in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, one of the least religious of the Founders, Benjamin Franklin, then in his 80s, made the following remarks:
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights [James 1:17], to illuminate our understanding? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or, do we imagine we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs [Acts 1:3] I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men [Daniel 4:17]. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice [Matthew 10:29], is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it” [Psalm 127:1]. I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel [Genesis 11]: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages [Psalm 44:13-14; Jeremiah 24:9]. I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service (1787, bracketed items added).
John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, reflected on the origin of the nation:
From the day of the Declaration, the people of the North American Union and of its constituent states were associated bodies of civilized men and Christians…. They were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct (1821, p. 28, emp. added).
The Declaration of Independence cast off all the shackles of this [British] dependency. The United States of America were no longer Colonies. They were an independent nation of Christians (1837, p. 18, emp. added).
Obviously, those who founded the United States of America (and established the Bill of Rights!) were under no illusion that all symbols reflecting Christianity should be extricated from society.
Finally, observe that Christians regularly vote in the halls of public schools which indoctrinate impressionable students with the tenets of humanism on a regular basis (see Waggoner, 1998). Considering the vast number of school-endorsed messages affirming homosexuality, abortion, evolution, and other objects of humanist promotion, Christian voters probably encounter many humanistic signs or posters in a school where polling occurs. Lest the humanist differentiate this circumstance from his voting at the church facility, recall that humanism also is a religion (Colley, 2007a; cf. Torcaso…, 1961).
The American Humanist Association says that more cases like this one will follow, in other states (“‘Church Polling Place…’,” 2006). If this occurs, we hope that reason and historical precedent will prevail, preventing radical anti-religious bias from rewriting the Constitution and further expunging religion from society.
Adams, John Quincy (1821), Address Delivered at the Request of the Committee of Arrangements for Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence at the City of Washington on the Fourth of July 1821, Upon the Occasion of the Reading the Declaration of Independence (Cambridge: Hilliard and Metcalf).
Adams, John Quincy (1837), An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport, at Their Request, on the Sixty-first Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple).
Bill of Rights (1789), National Archives, [On-line], URL: http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/bill_of _rights_transcript.html.
“‘Church Polling Place is Unconstitutional,’ Says Suit Launching Nontheist Legal Center,” American Humanist Association, [On-line], URL: http://www.humanistlegalcenter.org/cases/cp/cppressrelease.html.
Colley, Caleb (2007a), “Secular Humanism and the Reorganization of Religion,” [On-line], URL: https://apologeticspress.org/articles/3405.
Colley, Caleb (2007b), “Secular Humanism and Statism,” [On-line], URL: https://apologeticspress.org/articles/3307.
Franklin, Benjamin (1787), “Constitutional Convention Address on Prayer,” [On-line], URL: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/benfranklin.htm.
Rabinowitz v. Anderson (2006), [On-line], URL: http://www.humanistlegalcenter.org/cases/cp/legalcase.pdf.
Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), [On-line], URL: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=367& amp;invol=488.
Waggoner, Robert (1998), “Do All Public Schools Now Teach Humanism?,” [On-line], URL: http://biblicaltheism.com/doall.htm.
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