Chicago Sun-Times: Pastor Rips Muslims, Loses Polling Sites

Cook County election officials are moving five polling sites out of a south suburban church whose pastor says all Muslims are either involved in terrorism or they are financial supporters of it.

But the same pastor runs a church on Chicago’s Southwest Side that continues to be home to three Chicago polling sites.

The Rev. Vernon Lyons, who runs Ashburn Baptist Church in Orland Park, makes no apologies for his comments, which came as he led an unsuccessful effort to keep a mosque out of Orland Park.

County Clerk David Orr said several voters told him they were uncomfortable with the idea of going into Lyons’ church to vote on Nov. 2, given his beliefs.

Orr said “no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated” while voting, so he moved the five polling sites out of Lyons’ church and into public buildings.

But Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Tom Leach said he wasn’t aware of that controversy and no voters have complained about the three polling sites inside the Ashburn Baptist Church Lyons has run for 53 years in Chicago’s racially diverse 18th Ward.

But Lyons says he’s misunderstood and isn’t anti-Islamic at all.

“We’re opposed to terrorism and Orland Park people are not eager to have a Bridgeview situation here,” he said Wednesday, alluding to the suburban village that has a sizable Muslim population.

“The decision of the county clerk to accommodate the bias or intolerance of some voters is his decision,” Lyons added.

But Yaser Tabbara, director of Chicago’s Council on American Islamic Relations, said he hopes Leach follows Orr’s lead and moves polling sites out of Lyons’ Chicago church, as well, to accommodate the comfort of voters.

“It’s his duty to make sure polling places won’t become a hostile environment to any population,” he said. ”[Lyons] says extreme Muslims are killers and moderate Muslims are financiers of killers — it’s ludicrous and unacceptable to now ask people to go to his church to cast their vote.”

Leach said he’ll investigate whether the city should keep three polling sites inside Lyons’ church or seek alternate public buildings.

Lyons said he’s not concerned, given the burden placed on church staff while hosting a polling site.

“We are a patriotic and civic-minded congregation,” he added, later asking how many reporters speak or understand Arabic.

“See? Those dear folks have an advantage,” he said, laughing. “They have a code.”

Tabbara said that’s an example of comments that “create a hostile environment” for Muslims, who would “feel unwelcome at the least” voting inside Lyons’ church.

Orr agreed, saying he’s always looking for “better polling sites” and “the things said by [Lyons] were so grievous, it created a lot of fear among some people.”

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