An Ashburn church had its privileges of being a polling place taken away when its pastor made negative comments on the development of a mosque in Orland Park.
The Chicago Board of Elections made the change after the church’s pastor, Vernon C. Lyons, reportedly stated that a new mosque in Orland Park would attract Islamic terrorists and violence.
Lyons was one of several people who had publicly opposed the development of a mosque in the southwestern suburb, and wrote letters to the town’s village board to reject the development proposal.
Supporters of the mosque said Lyons’ comments were discriminating. One woman claimed that these views would cause her to feel intimidated if she voted in Ashburn Baptist Church in Orland Park on election day.
Because of the projected feeling, the state board of elections decided to eliminate the Orland Park church as a polling site.
The Board of Elections in Chicago held an investigation and did the same thing.
“It was just the perception that was created,” said Tom Leach, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections.
Yaser Tabbara, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, an Islamic non-profit organization, noted that there are large populations of Arab-American Muslims on the Southwest Side and surrounding suburbs.
He called Lyons’ comments “inflammatory,” stating that they can provoke danger.
“That in itself creates a hostile environment for any kind of minority,” said Tabbara.
Lyons is pastor of both the Orland Park branch of the Ashburn Baptist Church and the Chicago site.
His suburban site had five polling sites pulled, while the local church had three sites taken away.
He has been publicly vocal on certain issues, from homosexuality to charitable causes.
The Bible Baptist Church in Darmstadt, Germany printed an online version of some of Lyons’ pamphlets on Baptists and Protestants, and a piece on church unity.
“It’s kind of a relief,’ said Lyons, who described the work put behind conducting a polling site around election times.
He said that a great deal of manpower, time and effort is put into holding polling sites, and the work doesn’t end until after all of the ballots are counted on election day.
People working at the polling site are also responsible for the clean-up and maintenance of the site while voting is being held.
Lyons does not know if his church will ever be a polling site again. He said that he learned about his polling sites being pulled from media reports and word of mouth, not from the Board of Elections.
“We would never say we would never, but we’re not shedding tears,” said Lyons.
The pastor mentioned the allegations of terrorism support of local Muslim residents and entities that were reportedly investigated by federal authorities.
“We just don’t want that situation (in our church),” said Lyons.
Leach said that notices will be mailed to the Ashburn residents who usually voted at Ashburn Baptist Church, alerting them that a new location will be found.
The board will search with the alderman and Democratic Ward Committeeman, Ald. Michael Thomas Murphy (18th), and Republican ward Committeeman John Benoit for a new site that is “free of interference,” said Leach.
Copyright © 2004, Southwest News-Herald