Voting in Churches. It Doesn’t Bother Me, But is it Right?

November 15, 2018
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Opinion contributed by Rik van Hemmen |

The single polling station in Fair Haven is the Church of the Nativity on Ridge Road. At first glance it is quite a suitable location. Good road access, ADA access, plenty of space and a nice clean environment.
However, it is in a church.

Is this a problem in Fair Haven? Maybe, maybe not. We are basically a friendly place, and even though I am not a church goer, I will happily enter any church, mosque, or synagogue to record my point of view, even publicly. And, in my experience, I generally get a fair hearing when I do that too.
That is just my personal experience, but voting in churches poses a number of subtle problems. It tends to provide an advantage to the views of the people who are members of the church, and a disadvantage to those who are not.

There is solid research that voting outcomes can be affected simply by requiring people to vote in a place where there are certain preconceived notions.

How would a straying Catholic vote about abortion if there is a Catholic cross above the place that they are voting? Would a Muslim, or a Jew, or Lutheran, or an atheist feel comfortable entering a Catholic church?

Not having been raised in any church, as a young man, I remember feeling slightly anxious whenever I entered a church. At that age, would I have felt comfortable going into a church to vote for the first time? My Daughter in Law is a non-practicing Hindu. She married in a very liberal Episcopal church, but I do remember her initial anxiety at the idea. One of my best friends was raised a staunch Catholic, and literally shook with anxiety when I shamed him into going to a Protestant service many years ago.
Entering churches in cross faith fashion is extremely important for a tolerant society, but entering one church, of one faith, to record the views of all faiths, (or lack of faiths) is not what this country is made of.

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Possibly there is no harm in Fair Haven, but the questionable approach remains. Often a defense for voting in churches is that people can vote by mail-in ballot if they do not want to vote in a church. We all know that is a weak argument; it is basically lipstick on a hog. (I will also add that one of my daughters never received her Fair Haven absentee ballot for this election.)

As a small and friendly town we can take the lead in doing the right thing. Around Labor Day the Fair Haven firehouse processes thousands of people during the Firemen’s Fair without a hint of religious imprimatur. Why not also use the firehouse, the ultimate community space, for Fair Haven citizens’ most important community activity? We can even drop a few bucks in the firehouse donation box after we vote.

Rik van Hemmen
Fair Haven


This article was first published in the Nov. 15-21, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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