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