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Intersection of Life and Faith

'Humanists' Challenge Voting Booths in Churches

  • Susan Jones Senior Editor
  • 2006 30 Nov
'Humanists' Challenge Voting Booths in Churches
( - The American Humanist Association on Wednesday announced the launch of the first "nontheistic" legal center in the nation's capital -- a direct response, it said, to the "influence exerted by the religious right under the Bush administration."

The group said it is particularly concerned about "damage" to Thomas Jefferson's "wall of church-state separation."

The AHA's first legal project (lawsuit) stems from the midterm elections. The group is challenging the location of polling places in churches. While some churches cover their religious symbols on Election Day, others do not, and the AHA sees that as a major problem.

Humanists plan to argue that religious proselytizing took place at the polls. "We put out a call to our members whose polling places were churches, asking them to report what they saw," said AHA President Mel Lipman. "The response was shocking."

An Illinois humanist says he voted in a church that displayed a four-foot wooden crucifix right above the election judges," said AHLC attorney James Hurley.

"Another member in California was confronted with a large marble plaque dedicated to the 'unborn children' who are 'killed' by abortion and containing a quote from the Bible justifying the notion that the soul is alive in the womb.

"And a New York member voted in a room featuring large religious slogans on the wall behind the voting machines."

But the AHA said it would pursue "one of the most egregious and well-documented cases" -- that of plaintiff Jerry Rabinowitz who was assigned to vote at Emmanuel Catholic Church in Delray Beach, Fla.

The case, Rabinowitz v. Anderson, alleges that to enter the polling place, Rabinowitz had to walk past a church-sponsored "pro-life" banner framed by multiple giant crosses. In the voting area itself, "he observed many religious symbols in plain view, both surrounding the election judges and in direct line above the voting machines. He took photographs that will be entered in evidence," the attorney Hurley said.

"George W. Bush has been busy appointing conservative Christian judges who don't support the separation of church and state," said AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. "And year after year we're seeing government intruding further and further into the religious sphere."

The humanist legal center says it includes more than two dozen lawyers from around the country, backed by thousands of humanists from coast to coast, who seek to have humanist values represented in the legal arena.

(The AHA defines humanism as a "progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism [religion], affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity." It rejects "religious propaganda.") The group says its new legal center "will work to make sure that the First Amendment to our Constitution is honored."

It will do so by calling attention to "injustices," Lipman added. And at the same time, it will "educate Americans on the importance of religious liberty and the plight of humanists in the United States."

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