ACLU Settles Lawsuit against Fresno County over Removal of Polling Place in Dispute over Black Lives Matter Signs
For Immediate Release: June 23, 2020
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FRESNO –Today, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California settled a lawsuit with Fresno County over the chief elections official’s removal of a polling place at Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno – all because the church refused to cover up Black Lives Matter banners on church property.
The removal of the Church as a polling place was spurred by complaints from one person calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist” group.
Under the settlement agreement, the county has agreed to designate Unitarian Universalist Church as a voter ballot drop-box location for at least four years, including two presidential elections and the primaries in between. In addition, the congregation will be allowed to continue to display its signs affirming the worth and dignity of Black Lives during the elections.
“The settlement affirms our commitment to participating in the democratic process while continuing to display our Black Lives Matter banners and we will continue to do so to highlight the racial injustice against Black people,” said the church’s minister Rev. Tim Kutzmark. “We’re thrilled that the church will be able to serve voters again, now as a ballot drop box location.”
In our lawsuit filed in June of 2019, we argued that Brandi Orth, Fresno County Clerk and Registrar of Voters, violated the church’s right to free speech when she ordered the polling place moved, saying the Black Lives Matter banners prevented the church from being a “safe and neutral” voting place for the November 2018 elections.
“It’s ironic that county officials took away the church’s polling place because they said it made some voters uncomfortable. Yet now, a year later, community activists have emblazoned Black Lives Matter on a street in front of Fresno City Hall, encouraged by city officials,” said Christina Fletes-Romo, a voting rights attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California
“This settlement is a victory for Fresno County voters. In a time when vote-by-mail is more crucial than ever due to COVID, this additional ballot drop-box will ensure that voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” said Steve Hankins, partner with Riley, Safer, Holmes and Cancila LLP, our co-counsel in the lawsuit.