Group Objects to Voting on Gay Issue at N.C. Churches
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A humanist group is claiming the state of North Carolina violated the First Amendment by allowing voting in churches that advocated anti-gay political stances.
A church signboard reading "A true marriage is male and female and God" greeted precinct W28 voters who walked up to the voting both to cast ballots on a state constitutional amendment to prevent gay marriage. Pictures of the billboard, displayed next to "vote here" signs in front of the Devon Park United Methodist Church in Wilmington, N.C., went viral.
The humanist group claims the state violated the First Amendment by hosting voting at partisan churches, but the state says the practice is perfectly legal and will not change.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which advocates the non-religious views of humanism, sent a letter to the state board three weeks after the May vote. The letter outlines concerns about using churches as polling places and alleges the state violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
However, the group stopped short of threating legal action. Bill Burgess, lead legal counsel for the group, said he has no plans to sue the state or the counties that select the voting locations.
"What we’re looking for is a change in policy," Burgess said. "It’s hard to fight this one county at a time. It makes sense for state board of election to set state policy."
About 500 of the state’s nearly 2,800 voting locations are churches. But the use of religious institutions is neither unique to North Carolina nor uncommon. Gregory M. Lipper, Senior Litigation Counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he regularly receives similar complaints from across the nation. He said that he opposes the practice as well, but that church voting locations are not one of the prevalent First Amendment battles.