Church claims it's no longer a polling station because of Black Lives Matter banners

The Unitarian Universalist Church has filed a federal lawsuit against the Fresno County election officer.

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By David K. Li

A California church claims its designation as a polling station was taken away by the local registrar of voters because there are Black Lives Matter banners on the church's property.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno this week filed a federal lawsuit against Fresno County Clerk and Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth, accusing her office of violating the church's basic First Amendment rights.

The church was a polling place during the elections of November 2016 and June 2018. Orth's office moved the neighborhood's voting location one mile north, to the CrossCity Christian Church, for the elections of November 2018, according to the complaint filed by American Civil Liberties Union lawyers on behalf of the church.

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Black Lives Matter banner at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno.Courtesy of Reverend Tim Kutzmark

Fresno County representatives asked the church in August 2018 to take down the banners on election day, the complaint said. When church leaders refused, they were told Sept. 5. 2018, that their location would no longer be a polling station, the lawsuit said.

Anti-electioneering laws in California say there are to be no signs endorsing candidates or measures within 100 feet of a polling location, KSEE24 Fresno reports.

"The Church's Black Lives Matter banners were no electioneering," according the complaint written by ACLU lawyer Mollie M. Lee. "They did not advocate for or against any candidate or measure on the ballot." The Black Lives Matter movement calls for the end of racial profiling and police brutality.

The banners are also at least 200 feet away from the entrance voters would use to get inside the polling station, the church said, and have been in place since 2017.

Voter turnout at the church in June 2018 was 16.46 percent, greater than the overall county average of 10.93 percent, according to the civil action.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno leaders want a polling station located on its grounds again, without a precondition that Black Lives Matter banners be removed. The next election that could use the church as a polling station would be the California primaries this upcoming March, according to the ACLU.

Orth did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comments Tuesday.