An anti-abortion display at a church serving as a polling place raised concerns and complaints on Tuesday.
St. Anne Catholic Church, 9091 Prairie Ridge Blvd., has set up an anti-abortion display consisting of thousands of tiny white crosses. There was also an anti-abortion sign outside the polling window.
“We display more than 2,700 crosses, which represent the lives of babies that are lost to abortion each day in this country and the mothers who are victimized,” church spokeswoman Margie Mandli said in a statement. “We have displayed this memorial for three years as part of a new Respect Life ministry at our parish.”
But St. Anne is a polling place for the election, and some people feel the display crossed the line.
“We’ve had complaints from all over, people calling the state, claiming it’s voter intimidation,” Kenosha County Clerk Mary Kubicki said.
Jodi Muerhoff, acting president of Forward Kenosha, a political advocacy organization, said her group was also contacted about the display.
“This is voter influence, and while the large display may be outside the legal requirements for persuading and influencing voters at a polling location, it is still clearly meant to do so and violates the spirit if not the letter of the law,” she said.
Church officials disagreed.
“This memorial garden represents our belief as Catholics, and is not a political statement nor is it an endorsement of any candidate,” Mandli said. “St. Anne’s is the house of God. Our constitution protects us under freedom of speech and religious liberty to exercise this memorial and religious belief.”
Kubicki said many Democrats identify with a pro-choice stance while Republicans typically support anti-abortion measures, which is why the display and sign were considered political in nature.
The makeshift cemetery is more than 100 feet away from the church, which makes it legal as far as some form of electioneering.
However, the anti-abortion sign in the church was clearly in violation of election laws, Kubicki said, so county officials asked the church to take down the sign.
“The pastor said no, citing freedom of speech,” Kubicki said.
However, Kubicki said, “when a church becomes a polling place, it becomes a public entity. They have to follow election laws.”
So Kubicki contacted Pleasant Prairie. After another request to remove the banner was denied, Kubicki ordered that the sign be taken down, which village police officers did.
Kubicki said church officials told her the display had been set up last month and the overlap with Election Day was a coincidence. However, others claimed the display was put up more recently and was intentionally meant to be seen on Election Day.
Kubicki said she has contacted the district attorney about the situation, but said — as long as the banner stays down — she has no other problems with the church.
She said, however, the church’s status as a polling place for wards 12, 13 and 14 in the village has been revoked and voters will have new location for the next election.
“We will no longer be using them as a polling place,” she said. “We’ll be moving it out of the church.”