ACLU suing Fresno County clerk over removing polling place for Black Lives Matter banners

The ACLU is filing a lawsuit against the Fresno County clerk for removing a Unitarian church as a polling place in response to a complaint about their Black Lives Matter banner.

The Unitarian Universalist Church on Nees served as a polling place in November 2016 and June 2018, but Action News reported on the clerk moving the polling place for the November 2018 election.

The church says the banner was not electioneering.

"If we had a sign that says 'He has risen', that is a theological statement that a church has the right to make and I wonder if some folks complained about that would you be stripping that church as a role of a polling place," Reverend Tim Kutzmark told us in November 2018.

Even if it was considered electioneering, it's more than twice the minimum required 100 feet away from polling place and entrance.

But the lawsuit says county clerk Brandi Orth got a complaint in August 2018.

"I inquired as to why it was okay to have a Black Lives Matter (a known domestic terrorist group) sign in front of our polling place," the complaint read. "I spoke to a Ms. R.A. Lopez on May 22, and she assured me she would personally go by there and look at it, and contact me before the week was up. It has been three months. Is she that busy? I am a taxpaying citizen who has been ignored. ALL of the citizens deserve to be heard and their concerns looked into. Yes, it has been three months and our primary elections came and went. Will the sign remain for the general in November?"

The lawsuit says county clerk Brandi Orth asked church leadership to remove the banner and when they refused, she moved the polling place to a different church.

They say some voters complained about messaging at that location, the CrossCity Christian Church, but the clerk did not remove it as a polling place.

And the ACLU lawsuit says the Unitarian church leaders are concerned they won't be considered as the county moves to a new voting center model in 2020.

Neither Orth nor county counsel Daniel Cederborg could comment about specific issues laid out in the lawsuit. They are aware of the ACLU's plan to file the lawsuit but they have not been served with the lawsuit and they have not considered the possible defenses yet. The case will go through the proper channels and they'll respond if and when they can.
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