Article

Why am I Forced to Vote in Church?

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As an atheist, I only go to church when I’m forced to. And as a civic-minded citizen of West Hills, CA, that’s about twice a year–on election day.

How is it that in a country where separation of church and state is constitutionally mandatory, that we can’t find other public places to cast our votes? I mean hold them at the grocery store, or in front of Starbucks, or even in a tent in the parking lot at the local school if they can’t figure anything else out.

Why are churches even eligible to host elections? How can we expect people to vote their conscience in an country that’s somewhere around 80% Christian when the polling places are in the very shadow of a cross?? Electioneering is banned near polling places, but the polling place itself just screams “Vote for GOD!!!”

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It’s no wonder 61% of people feel they can’t support an atheist politician–it’s a built in conflict: Even if they’re agnostic, and they’re not sure god exists, they feel squeamish about casting a vote against ‘him’ while ‘he’ is watching–illogical as that may be. And at least in West Hills, for the nearly 15 years I’ve lived here, they would have to have done so at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church!!

And we wonder why our politicians profess belief whether they are sincere or not?? Who are we kidding? “Public office is barred to the very people who are best qualified to hold it, the intelligentsia, unless they’re prepared to lie about their beliefs,” as Richard Dawkins said in his seminal 2002 speech at the TED conference. “American political opportunities are heavily loaded against those who are simultaneously intelligent and honest.”

This has got to stop!! The flag and the cross. Keep them the hell away from each other.

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Comments (24 comments)

Liquid Egg Product / February 5th, 2008, 7:12 pm / #1

Um…this is seriously low on the totem pole of problems in this country.

But I guess you need to vent somehow, right?

Kevin Morgan / February 5th, 2008, 7:15 pm / #2

I’d like to see how comfortable people would feel having to vote in a mosque or synagogue.

BlackSun / February 5th, 2008, 8:39 pm / #3

LEP,

Change the subject?

Kevin Morgan,

Exactly my point. It’s supposed to be neutral. If atheists have to vote in churches, then Christians should have to vote in mosques and stop whining about Hindus offering the opening prayer in the House.

We are a secular nation. It’s time to face up.

Paul / February 6th, 2008, 3:28 am / #4

Strange set up. Here in Oz the polling booths are set up at schools; but please note we do have religious schools in Oz so some of the arguments in your article apply here; I stick to the secular public schools myself.

Most P&Cs take the opportunity to set up a cake stall or the more effective BBQ … there is something about the small of caramelized onions and steak that I find hard to resist ….

anon / February 6th, 2008, 7:40 am / #5

I’d vote for an atheist in a heartbeat if they had half the brain you have. And if there is no one upstairs in your world what does it matter where you vote?
I don’t think your going to get away with quoting separation of church and state on this one, thats a whole can of worms, not to mention a bit of a red herring!

BlackSun / February 6th, 2008, 9:43 am / #6

Anon,

It’s a matter of Christian privilege. As you say, it wouldn’t affect my vote. But it does privilege a certain belief system, and it may affect the votes of others, therefore affecting my life.

No electioneering is allowed near polling places. Yet giant crosses and religious symbols are AT the polling place. Why is this a red-herring? Give me one good reason why this is not an example of a too-cozy relationship between church and state?

Abogada de la Diabla / February 6th, 2008, 11:19 am / #7

Your argument assumes that some people are fearful, superstitious and just plain moronic enough to believe that when they vote in a church, God is watching them. The dyed in the wool already fear God, so we’re talking about fence-sitters who just aren’t sure what they believe and are actually susceptible to a cross in a polling place? I hope there aren’t very many of those people in this world. But there are probably some.

BlackSun / February 6th, 2008, 11:30 am / #8

Abogada,

Yes, the fence sitters are the only ones who can make a difference. The others will go to their grave believing what they believe.

I’d like to think in a secular nation, voting is one of the most sacred things we do. After all, it is what people have died to protect. And upholding freedom of conscience as a principle mandates that we should not have any specific points of view impinging on that freedom–a neutral place to go to cast our votes. That’s why we don’t allow electioneering at polling places–at the risk of repeating myself.

It’s a relatively small point in the scheme of things. But I wonder how people would feel if one and only one political party were to be allowed to set up voting booths at their local party headquarters?

For all intents and purposes, Christianity is tantamount to a meta-political party even though its adherents range (somewhat) across the political spectrum. Particularly on social and “moral” issues, there is a very fixed Christian agenda.

If we want separation of church and state, we have to be vigilant at the boundary, and not just accept the status quo of Christian privilege.

Liquid Egg Product / February 6th, 2008, 5:44 pm / #9

Re-reading my comment, it seems more snide or demeaning than intended, so sorry about that.

Maybe I just don’t understand people well enough. You could put the polling station in George Bush’s ranch and I wouldn’t give a crap.

Oz Atheist / February 7th, 2008, 12:55 am / #10

As Paul said, here in Oz voting is conducted at schools, however we do allow electioneering.
There are people handing out ‘how to vote cards’ as you enter the school. I often delight in telling some of them (particularly ones aligned to religious parties) I wouldn’t vote for their candidate if they were the last person on earth (or some other pithy remark). Or, I’ll make a big point of not taking one of their cards, or, I’ll take one of their cards then promptly throw it in the recycle bin provided.

Random Donuts / February 7th, 2008, 11:30 pm / #11

I like the anger, Black Sun. Too many atheists repress their natural, necessary and useful anger, IMO. And we all lose.

I’m sick of so many smart people playing too nice, calculated and artificial…tolerating that which deserves no tolerance.

I’ve never had to vote in a church. WTF? Always a public school for me. I feel your pain.

Random Donuts / February 7th, 2008, 11:43 pm / #12

Best expression of atheist anger? IMHO, Greta Christina nails it:
http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/10/atheists-and-an.html

Aaron Kinney / February 8th, 2008, 11:22 am / #13

I wonder if Christian voters would feel comfortable being assigned to a voting station that was being hosted by a Chruch of Satan building? ;)

Morgaine / February 8th, 2008, 5:21 pm / #14

I don’t think it’s a relatively small point Black Sun. Having to vote in a church is a problem. It detracts from the freedom of choice that is supposed to accompany this basic right (and privilege). We are, whether we like it or not, susceptible to the influence of unconscious symbols. And the cross is a mighty one. regardless of one’s conscious relationship to it. The more we ignore the reality that symbols have enormous power on the mind the more likely we are to be influenced by them. We all know that a large part of what makes advertising campaigns so powerful, are the subliminal suggestions/ messages deliberately employed via visual and auditory cues. All it takes is an image flashed on a screen for a millisecond and an impact has been etched into the psyche. And it is because of the power of symbol and image, that marketing experts need to be psychologically savvy. What goes on beneath the radar of our consious mind takes up more brain power than what goes on above it. Denying this is naive. Our purchasing decisions are influenced by carefully placed images everyday. Why would anyone think voting choices would be immune, especially for ‘fence-sitters’!

So, if you are one of those people, (and there are plenty) who have…say… any ambivalence around their religiousity whatsoever, or lack there of, then, having to vote while being surrounded by such a potent image as the cross, could absolutely have an impact on said vote. Which effects everyone of us in the most profound way. So. I understand why this would make you angry. Me too.

Here’s one of many, many possible scenarios…say, a first time voter, late teens, brought up in a strict Christian home, who has decided, on principal, to vote on purely secure standards, even though they are still religiously identified. Or,  say, they’ve recently embraced an agnostic or natural humanistic world view but are still struggling with doubts and pressures from their desire to please their parents. In either case… the parents have been spouting a litany of reasons why this kid should think twice about voting for anyone who doesn’t profess god belief. The pressure’s on, but the kid is of firm mind, and thinks there’s no way he or she will be swayed by their parents insistence. Then they go to vote. They find themselves in a church. Now their parents voice as well as any clergy they’ve been indoctrinated by in their most impressionable years, ( the very ‘voices’ they are internally battling with as part of their age appropriate individuation process) comes flooding back in, and is turned up a few notches. Even if they dismiss the push from the past, consciously, the image of the cross and it’s influence is still effecting them on a deeper subconscious level That’s just the nature of image. This could either push them into a firmer position to keep religion out of their choice .Or, not. It could overwhelm. This is just one, perhaps not the best example, but one nonetheless of endless scenarios which illustrate the potential problem.

Bottom line is…in order for a person to truly be free to cast their vote, the polling environment needs to be as neutral as possible, free from, at the very least, the most insidious of influences…archetypal religious symbols like the cross. as well as any image that plays on issues of guilt and damnation. It cannot help but reach inside the psyche and tweak it, at least for those that still have a relationship to it, positive or negative. And, what this lack of understanding…or underestimation of this problem points to, is that we as a society are woefully under-educated (or just plain naive) about the power of symbol altogether, whether it be an archetypal one or simply language as symbol…as image/symbol influences everything we perceive, are and do.

vjack / February 9th, 2008, 8:44 am / #15

I feel lucky that I get to vote in a community center with no church ties. Still, I know that this is one of the few polling places around here that isn’t a church. I don’t know if I’d be able to vote in a church – I might melt if I walked through the door.

morgaine / February 9th, 2008, 10:46 am / #16

Note…I am talking about fence-sitters, and those who are highly conflicted about their religiousity. Of these there are plenty. Obviously folks who have made peace with their religious sensibilities just have to deal with the annoyance. But for everyone it does affect, its a problem for us all.

BlackSun / February 9th, 2008, 4:04 pm / #17

Random Donuts,

When I was a kid, they voted in my public school. But I guess churches are on the list now too.

Morgaine,

Thanks for your eloquent discussion. I agree. Allowing voting in church is like allowing cigarette companies to sponsor a sporting event. It provides a modicum of legitimacy and influence to a shamelessly partisan organization.

I remember the cigarette companies whining for years about how Joe Camel wasn’t directed at kids. Yeah right. So the Christians can’t say the cross has no influence. It’s a powerful guilt-inducing symbol. If it wasn’t so successful in both forming religious identity and behavior modification, they wouldn’t use it themselves.

vjack and Aaron,

LOL

Bacopa / February 11th, 2008, 2:39 pm / #18

Voting is usually in schools, libraries, or courthouse annexes around here. Even so, there are still quite a few polling places in churches.

I use the early voting option anyway. I just dash down to the local county tax office and vote a couple of weeks before the election.

chris / February 20th, 2008, 1:27 pm / #19

Actually I know this one.
Courthouses in many locations, especially rural are not that large, in my hometown that is the case. Even the new government buildings that have just been built are for offices and courtrooms. There is no single space large enough to handle voting. And because the government doesn’t want to spend money on a place that would only be used infrequently they designate the larger sheltered communal gathering places as places of voting. This can include courthouses, libraries, courthouses, and school gymnasiums.

Also many disaster plans at local, state, and federal levels use to require these structures to be built with backup circuits so generators could be quickly installed and the place used as a disaster shelter. We found one in my hometown church and in the library where I currently work. No one knew they were there.

Atheist for Hire / August 27th, 2008, 9:56 am / #20

Yeah, we shouldn’t have to vote in a church.

We also shouldn’t have to vote in a public school (where the religion is secular humanism).

We should all vote under a tree. Oh, darn, the Druids worship trees.

Sorry, bro.

Even you have a religion. You believe more fervently than any Christian does in their religion.

Your religion is extremist faith in the impossiblity of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics being true.

By the way, I’ve been doing work on Hurricane Katrina relief for almost two years now. Why is that I see thousands of Christian groups quietly organized to help people, but I haven’t seen a single atheist organization organized to lift a finger to help anyone? Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because the atheist movement is actually built on a foundation of hatred?

Happy & Free : .) / August 28th, 2008, 9:29 am / #21

Loved everyones say
except for LEP’s apathy.
Freedom to be free of Religion came from a firey spirit in individuals thru history who directly & indirectly fought for it ! Apathy had nothing to do w/ our freedom to have web sites such as BSJ.
How about a framed “In God We Trust ” at the corner entrance of my son’s public school !!!
Got to Love a school staff’s version of rebelion, cause that’s exactly what they’re conveying to us atheist parents & kids as we walk in seeing that staring bk at us as we head the hallway. Displaying that framed, flg in the bkground “In God We Trust” is their way of saying
“Look what we can do & get away with! Try & get it down u atheists, we dare u”
Well I guess I just will have to! If someone else doesn’t before me, just can fight that battle right now, yeah, I have other priorities : (
Single mother’s have it hard, not easy being Supermom. Got some waves going on already at his school, so got to wait for them to settle down before I start the the next ones. It’s been fun !! Going to enjoy these when I make them ! Weeeeeeeee…. = )

Happy & Free : .) & named Amen, really! / August 28th, 2008, 11:14 am / #22

Hey !
Atheist for Hire !
I thought & realised that, way bk before Katrina, when I was a Redefined Theist,
like most of the population really is –
most of the population don’t believe in the God of the Bible anymore,
it’s a redefined God that they Honor & Believe in.
So if I don’t start it first, because I’ve been SOOOO WANTING TO !!!!!!!!!
Some other Atheist will !
Yup!!!!!
Atheist’s really Have got to stop leaving rescue services to the Churches !!!!!!!
U read my mind Bud !!!!!!!!!!!
Collective consciousness is an eery, quiery, funky cool thing man !!!!!!
Good point & hope some one’s already realised it & acting on it, because I can’t start such a demanding high responsibilty at this time.
It’s simple mathematics, ur all already providing the service, so why would Atheist’s want to challenge u all on providing emergency care to those in desperate need?
Just doesn’t wk that way Sir !!
Atheist’s know their limits, we’re not Savages, we’re Humans making a point w/ our Mind’s & Heart’s ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
But it has to happen & it’s going to happen,
cause I’m sure as hech not the only one unimpressed w/ Christian releif,
for how many centuries uv all been doing the job????
God & u all still haven’t helped the poor stop being poor !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Get over ur self !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Katrina’s still in dire need ! ! ! ! ! !
I’m sorry ur that impressed in many of the religious organisation’s who’ve helped Katrina’s victims ! ! !
And so called Third World Countries ! ! !
Many of us out here aren’t ! ! ! !
Helping people ISN’T A COMPETITION ! ! ! ! !
IT’S A DUTY, RESPONSIBILITY & CONCERN FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE TERRIBLE SITUATION WHO NEED THE HELP ! ! ! ! !
SO WHY THE F*** IS THERE NO PROGRAM ADOPTING ALL THE ORPHANES IN THE WORLD WHEN INSTEAD ALL U RELIGIOUS MARREIED FOLK SELFISHLY F*** EACH OTHER MAKING BIG FAMILIEIS, LIKE THE HIGH-N-MIGHTY MORMONS DO AS PART OF THEIR MISSION IN LIFE, WHEN U ALL CAN BE & COULD HAVE BEEN SOLVING THIS PROBLEM FOR OVER 2000 YEARS ADOPTING ORPHANES OF THE WORLD, INSTEAD OF POPING UR OWN LIKE RABBITS ! ! !
One finger pointing out always has three pointing bk at the person doing the pointing …..

Happy & Free : .) & named Amen, really ! / August 28th, 2008, 1:01 pm / #23

P.S. I’m a Redefined Atheist meaning I don’t care whether God exist’s or not, it hasn’t been proven either way, so being that’s that, I don’t believe in believing in God, it’s simply not mentaly & emotionaly healthy too !!!
Study the image thru history.
He Is Not Absolute Love,
He’s a Jerk-A Big Time One!
Life is psychological / emotional & chemical, God taught from childhood becomes connected to that in our development and the brain knows it ! To be free from it is to focus a child to the natural magic of reality not fantasy ! Though it does take imagination to come up w/ the world as we know it ! And yes I’m aware of how many things / ideas came from a spiritual / metaphysical belief. Escape from the dreary reality of every century is everyone’s dream & if one can make it a reality, power to the person but don’t shove it to someone as fact when it’s not ! (Yet?)
God is an opinion still ! ! ! ! !
As well as no God ! ! ! ! !
So let’s focus on neutrual ground & work together to make life Almost Perfectly Utopian,
it hasn’t been done,
let’s go for it ??? ! ! !
It doesn’t hurt to give it a good try ! ! ! !

I Pledg Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America
And to it’s Republic for which it stands
One Nation of the People Indivisable with Liberty and Justice for All
This is decent for us to pledge to.
Personaly as a multiracial Native American South of the Boarder I’d like the America replaced w/ The People, like this establishment should have done so from the beginning, not after the explorer & map maker Amerigo !? Or maybe Blacksun’s Mom, Elizabeth Clare Prophet was right, the Freemason’s crypticly took Amerigo & spelled it out America to mean I Am Race, after part of the other name of God, I Am That I Am ?!
Any one ever realised these continents r named after this man? Boy his great-great… grand kids must puff up knowing two continents r named after him !
What is the importance of this establishment continuing to be named named after such a person ! ! !
No Thk u ! Things have got to change to respect the origanal people of these contin & for what it’s about – the people – the Human race
The United States of the People
Not America the Map Maker ! ! ? : )>’
Power to the Heart of the People ! Viva A todos ! Hail Everyone ! Not just one guy !
Well one thing at a time, this is another subject, a Native North & South American one ! : )

AmenAS HandF / March 4th, 2009, 7:05 am / #24

Just found out the "God We Trust" plaque hanging in my son's school is part of Virginia Law!!!!!!!!!
What the hell!!!!!!!!
Any lawyer out there want to take this on?????!!!

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