Voting With Jesus by Catherine Fahringer (June/July 1994)

Since 1988 I have been trying, between other church/state battles, to do something about this infernal custom of voting in churches. Over the years I have written many letters on this subject to people and to groups that I hoped would do something to bring about change, but all I got was the usual passing-the-buck, or no response at all.

In the fall of 1991 I did a piece for Freethought Today on church voting. By that time I had met an attorney and I thought that together we could move mountains, especially after her precinct split and her voting place was moved from a public school to a Presbyterian church! She was momentarily furious, but the steam didn’t last. Other problems arose for me, so I put church voting on the back burner and was careful to remember to vote absentee in a mall not far away from where I live.

This April I got caught short somehow. I had voted absentee in the primaries, but the date of the run-off election escaped my attention until the actual day arrived. I couldn’t not vote in that one; it was too important. So down to the church I went.

It was only nine days past Easter, so when I peeled into the parking lot I was faced with a bonus yuck; one of the three rustic crosses that had been erected for the Good Friday orgy was still standing. Beyond it I could see one of the stations of the cross.

The first thing that met my eyes when I opened the outside door of the parish hall was a pin-up picture of Jesus, staff in hand, surrounded by fluffy white sheep with the caption, “Welcome Lambs of God.” But that was in the hall. Things might get better in the actual room where the voting was taking place, right? Wrong! The room was bedecked with paper cut-out pictures and slogans. Rainbow colored figures of dancing children (presumably) on a round background of blue construction paper was next to cut-outs of large red letters spelling, “Celebrate Jesus.” A poster with huge red hands holding crude construction paper cut-outs of a green father, a yellow mother holding a yellow baby, and two other somethings, one green and one yellow (one might have been a child . . . or a cross, the other a dove), bore the words, “We are God’s family.”

Pretending that the two volunteers must be aware of this inappropriate ambience I gasped, “This is surely a bad joke someone is playing on us! What a violation of church/state separation!” The volunteers were too astonished to say anything. I cast my vote and raced home to get my camera. When I returned, the two volunteers were still mute, so I just clicked away while chattily informing them that I was a member of a group working for church/state separation and that I intended sending these pictures to headquarters to show them a wow of a violation!

No wonder people don’t vote. If they have to go through what I had to, I don’t blame them. Besides, I found out that some schools don’t want to be bothered with the voting process; they are very cool to requests to be used for that purpose (the one across the street from me being one, I presume). Isn’t that dreadful! What an opportunity for students to see democracy in action, and the chance is spurned!

In San Antonio, in 1991, twenty-seven churches and two parochial schools served as polling places. Unfortunately I didn’t count the number this year, but I think it might be up instead of down.

As with all things religious, entanglement with government begins in small ways and insidiously becomes a controlling force. The point in this voting-in-churches business is not that my delicate sensibilities as an atheist will be offended, or that I might succumb to this subtle form of proselytizing, but rather that, as this practice continues unprotested, the idea is implanted in the public’s mind that religion has an important role in the democratic process. This is scary, for it is another one of those attempts to characterize this country as a “Christian nation under God,” and to fuse the connection between church and state. “In God We Trust” on our money, and the words “under God” in the pledge, reinforced the Pat Robertsons, the Jerry Falwells and others of the far (wrong) right in their belief that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious and the Constitution was based on the Ten Commandments.

Those of you who vote in churches without protest, are aiding the enemies of democracy. The voices of Christians are carried via radio and TV throughout the world. The voice of reason must be carried personally by each of us. Let your voice be heard!

Catherine Fahringer is an officer of the Foundation and a San Antonio activist.


Catherine reports she and some local representatives of the ACLU had a recent meeting with a San Antonio official over the problem, and felt they had “raised consciousness” about the conflict of interest. Confusing the issue further is the fact that the Democratic and Republican parties are permitted to choose the polling places for San Antonio primaries.

Freedom From Religion Foundation