Church Polling Sites Must Obey Laws On Politicking, AU Says

Americans United for Separation of Church and State reminded Texas election officials last month that houses of worship being used as polling places must obey all state laws concerning the display of signs and other election-related material.

AU took action after receiving a complaint from a Dallas County man who said he was barred from displaying material advocating the defeat of a same-sex marriage initiative at a church that was being used as a polling place.

Texas allows early voting, and in Dallas County, one of the sites used was the Fellowship Hall of Northway Baptist Church. In late October, Chris Sparrer, who opposes Proposition 2, went to the church parking lot with material promoting the measure’s defeat.

Sparrer said church officials ordered him off the property and also demanded he remove his car, which had signs on it opposing the initiative.

Texas law prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a building being used as a polling place. Sparrer, however, was outside the 100-foot zone, though still on church property. AU attorneys argue that the church, by agreeing to become a polling place, gave up its right to ban electioneering material.

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “Americans have the clear constitutional right to take a stand on political issues and to try to persuade voters to join them. It is wrong for clergy to interfere in that process.

“If churches don’t want free speech to take place on their property, they should not rent their facilities to the government for use as polling places,” Lynn continued. “This incident demonstrates why polling places ought to be located at religiously neutral sites.”