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Unitarians ask Bucher to reinstate Boca mosque as voting site

By Eliot Kleinberg, For Palm Beach Post, On 02 September 2016, Read Original
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A Unitarian congregation in Boca Raton has delivered an ultimatum to Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher: Restore the polling site you pulled from a Boca Raton mosque in time for the Nov. 8 election, or the Unitarian church won’t be a polling site any more.

“We will also encourage other religious organizations to take similar action,” the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton told Bucher in an Aug. 21 letter. “Discrimination against one religious organization threatens the rights of all religious organizations.”

The group — which said it has served as a polling place for decades, most recently for precinct 4160 — says this is not a threat. It’s just abiding by its own rules.

“Our Fellowship’s policies on renting our facilities prohibit rental to any organization or person that discriminates against others. Therefore, we will pull ourselves as a polling place following the upcoming November election until a reversal can be made about the mosque serving as a polling place, which is in line with the principles of our religious faith.

Martha Nungesser, the Fellowship’s co-president, said Tuesday the group would pull its church as a polling place after the Nov. 8 election if the Islamic Center of Boca Raton, at 3480 N.W. Fifth Ave. near Florida Atlantic University isn’t made a voting site before that election.

The mosque has never actually been used as polling location. Bucher set it as a site for Tuesday’s election several months ago but decided in July not to use it after she received as many as 50 calls advising her to move the site, with some callers warning her they’d try to block voting or even would call in a bomb threat in order to clear the building.

Bucher moved the voting site for that area to Boca Raton’s Spanish River Library.

After the move, Bucher told The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board she felt she had to move the site “when we had a heightened threat that they (phone callers) were going to impede voters. I was very disappointed in our community and saw we have a lot of work to do.”

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship said in its letter, “When the price of smooth elections comes at the cost of religious discrimination, that price is unacceptable. When bullies realize it is easy to interfere with elections, where will they stop? With threats to churches that support gay marriage? Churches that support abortion rights? Churches that support gun control?”

Nungesser said she has talked to a large interfaith group of local religious institutions, many of which also serve as polling places, about taking similar action.

She said of Bucher, “She doesn’t seem to be willing to backtrack at all.”

Bucher, who this week has been dealing with Tuesday’s election and certifying the ballots from the election, said Thursday she hadn’t had a chance to see the Fellowship’s letter.

Bassem Alhalabi, the mosque’s president, has told The Post he was blindsided by Bucher’s action and has said she was too quick to cave in to “bigots.”

On Wednesday, Alhalabi, who’s also a professor at Florida Atlantic University, called the Fellowship’s ultimatum “a very strong message.” He said his center “would have done exactly the same thing if any other religious place was deprived from community service.”

But he said he’d counsel the Unitarian group to go forward as a polling place even if Bucher doesn’t acquiesce, adding, “I will be keeping the pressure on the supervisor’s office.”

The Islamic Center, he said, would have no difficulty setting up again as a polling place, even on short notice.

“We will be the happiest,” he said.

In fact, on election day Tuesday, the mosque held an open house to, Alhalabi said wryly, let people know what they had missed.


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