California Church Sues County After They Are Removed as Polling Place Due to Black Lives Matter Banners

A Black Lives Matter banner outside the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, Calif. Image via ACLU

A California church is suing a county election official for removing its polling place designation after the church put up banners supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno served as a polling place in the November 2016 national election and California’s June 2018 primary round. But when a local voter complained about the church’s banners, Fresno County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth removed the church from the list of polling places for the November 2018 general election.

“With Fresno County’s decision to place priority on one written complaint by an ill-informed white person — and to break the law by removing the church as a polling place — the county chose to support the denigration of black lives and support the societal prioritization of white lives,” the church’s minister, the Rev. Tim Kutzmark, told Religion News Service.

“This is wrong, it is a violation of our First Amendment rights, and it is an assault on the religious values of Unitarian Universalism,” said Kutzmark, whose congregation of about 450 members is in a wealthy, mostly white area of Fresno.

After the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, the church added two yellow banners with the words “Black Lives Matter” to its property — at least 200 feet away from the entrance to the polling station. California anti-electioneering laws do not allow signs endorsing candidates or measures within 100 feet of a polling location.

“The Church’s Black Lives Matter banners were not electioneering,” reads the church’s filing, which was prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California on behalf of the church. “They did not advocate for or against any candidate or measure on the ballot, and they were displayed more than 100 feet from the polling place at the Church.”

Kutzmark said the approximately 8-foot-long banners, which have been vandalized several times, were meant as a nonpartisan statement of theology and civil rights as part of Unitarian Universalism’s national Side With Love campaign.

The church’s lawsuit claims that Orth asked the church leadership to remove or cover the banners for Election Day after she got a complaint from a resident in August 2018 that asked “why it was okay to have a Black Lives Matter (a known domestic terrorist group) sign in front of our polling place.”

Black Lives Matter is a social activism movement that campaigns against systemic racism toward black people, in particular the disproportionate killings of black citizens by police. It is not a terrorist group, nor has the U.S. designated it as such.

“America does not place the same value on black lives as it does on white lives,” Kutzmark said. “It never has. This is immoral. The church displays our Black Lives Matter banners … to testify to the worth and dignity of black people and other people of color.”

Click here to read more.
Source: Religion News Service