A church in Fresno, Calif., has lost the opportunity to be a polling site for Tuesday’s elections after its leader rejected requests to remove a “Black Lives Matter” banner posted outside, according to reports.
The banner faces the street outside the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, the Fresno Bee reported. The church was asked to cover the banner during Tuesday’s elections while it hosted voting, but the Rev. Tim Kurtzmark refused, describing the sign as “a statement of our theological belief,” Fresno’s KFSN-TV reported.
“There is no way we are going to cover up a religious or civil rights statement,” Kutzmark said. He wrote a letter to his congregation saying, “we informed the county that our banners were non-partisan, non-political,” according to the Bee.
As a result of the dispute, Fresno County moved the polling site to CrossCity Christian Church, about a mile away, the Bee reported.
“The calls received from voters in the area indicated that the location may risk discouraging voters from turning up … so we determined it was best to move the polling place to another location that had been used previously,” Jordan Scott, spokesman for the Fresno County Administrative Office, said, according to the paper.
California electioneering laws require that any campaign material related to a candidate or ballot measure be at least 100 feet away from a polling location. Kutzmark said his church’s Black Lives Matter signs are 150 feet from their building, the Bee reported.
The reverend pushed back on the county’s decision.
“The sad part of this story is that banners that simply affirmed the worth and dignity of black people made white people uncomfortable,” Kutzmark said, according to the Bee. “As if their discomfort for 10 minutes on one day is more important than the discomfort that people of color live with every minute and every day of their lives in a white primacy culture.”
He said if they were to have a sign that read “He has risen,” a theological statement a church has the right to make, “I wonder if some folks complained about that would you be stripping that church as a role of a polling place,” according to KFSN-TV.
The Rev. B.T. Lewis II of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Fresno said he thinks that moving the polling site is “unfair” and “egregious,” the Bee reported.
“I think it is inappropriate for a few people to be able to call and just say, ‘We want them to remove it or we will cause you trouble,’ and then to have our county clerk’s office cave into that kind of intimidation,” he said.