Barnstead voters pass community bill of rights barring future religious identification

Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Barnstead voters breezed through their warrant at Saturday’s town meeting, but the town nevertheless managed to set a unique precedent.

Voters passed a petition article establishing a community bill of rights, ensuring the right to be free from religious identification in town. Petitioner Kati Preston said the current political climate and rhetoric of Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz motivated her to submit the article.

“I feel very strongly that we have to speak out,” said the 77-year-old Preston, herself a survivor of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

Twenty-eight members of Preston’s family were killed by the Nazis, and she was saved from the fate of Auschwitz by hiding from the regime in Germany as a child.

That time in her life is something Preston remembers well.

“I wore a little star, I had a little ID card with Jew on it,” she said. “I also feel that the Holocaust was bullying on steroids. It starts with little things; it starts with the legitimacy of calling people names.”

Preston said Republican front-runner Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims and minorities has reached a level where she felt some local action needed to be taken.

“It was about a month ago, I started thinking about it because every time I turned on the television I was horrified,” she said.

Barnstead’s warrant, drafted with help from Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, makes it so that residents are saying they will not comply with any future laws or executive orders requiring people to carry religious identification.

The article is saying “we disagree to the point where we’re not going to comply if something like that is passed,” said attorney Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

As far as Preston and Linzey know, the article Barnstead adopted is the first of its kind in the state and nation.

“What Barnstead did is pretty spectacular,” Linzey said, adding local measures like this “happen in pockets, but I think what you’re seeing now with someone like Trump, you’re going to see more and more communities moving toward disobedience.”

Preston moved to the United States in the 1970s, motivated in part by what she saw as dangerous and escalating rhetoric in Europe at the time. Now, she said she’s seeing the same thing here.

“I came here on purpose,” she said. “I came here because I wanted to raise my children in a place where this wouldn’t happen.”

The measure was passed on a voice vote with no questions or discussion.

Preston said she was happily surprised the town acted without any opposition to the measure.

“I’m so proud of my town,” she said. “We have to fight back, every single day.”

Barnstead passed all but two of its 26 articles Saturday, approving the proposed $3.6 million budget. Residents voted to strike down a petition warrant article to spend $45,000 to purchase a new police vehicle and another warrant article to authorize the selectmen to convey a town property to a resident who had paid all of his back taxes to the town.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen)

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