On Sunday, members of several Farmington churches left service to find campaign fliers on their cars. The first flier, distributed during the earlier service, was an anti-abortion flier, the second was a pro-Heather Wilson flier, both paid for by the Republican Party of New Mexico.
The discovery of the fliers left many angry and offended, as they believe church grounds should be off-limits for campaigning.
Diana Lang is a member of the First United Methodist Church on Monterey Avenue, and sings with a women's group there. Lang said she spoke with many at the church offended by the distribution.
"In addition to fliers lying in the parking lot, people were having to pull over to remove the fliers from their windshields, which caused a safety issue," said Lang.
It wasn't so much the message on the fliers that disturbed Lang, it was that campaigners seemed to invade every aspect of peoples' lives, leaving no location sacred.
"The election is all over the TV, the radio, everywhere," Lang said. "I feel that when I go to church, I should have my time to worship. Campaigning on church property is a breach of that."
Sarah Kaynor also sings with the church group.
"I was just really frustrated by it, because churches are expressly prohibited from doing political advertising. If churches can't do it, how can others be able to do it on church property?" she asked.
The Rev. Dave Blackwell of the church said one of his parishioners noticed the fliers and was quickly trying to remove them from the cars during the service. He said this type of distribution is not appropriate.
"Especially if the fliers have a political message, that's just bad business," Blackwell said.
A San Juan Republican Party volunteer who did not wish to identify herself said the office had checked with all city and state ordinances and learned that distributing the fliers on church property was legal. She expressed surprise that some would be offended by the distribution.
"Abortion is murder, and it's hard to imagine that any Christian would be offended," she said.
San Juan County Republican Party Chairman Pat Cordell said on Monday that the 800 fliers were provided by the Heather Wilson campaign and were distributed by local volunteers, though he was unaware they were being distributed on church property. He said his office has no policy prohibiting this, and said where candidates choose to distribute literature is up to them, but said volunteers from his office often offer to help pass out fliers. He said he could not rule out that distributing on church property might be repeated in the future, but said he would pass on the complaints.
"I do apologize if anyone was offended, and we definitely do not want to make any comment that would alienate anyone from voting Republican," Cordell said. "Normally, we just do door hangers, but I'm sure the workers were just trying to get the information out about our candidate."
The Rev. Glenn Perica, pastor of the nearby First Presbyterian Church, said his church was also targeted by the fliers on Sunday.
"I just don't appreciate it," Perica said. "People don't want a political statement at church, whether it's from the pulpit or on their car windows. It's just not appropriate."
One church has even had to pay extra workers to guard against church-time distribution.
The Rev. Tim Farrell is pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Allen Avenue. Farrell said the church is paying two maintenance men to walk through the parking lots during services to discourage campaigners from placing fliers on cars.
"I understand the enthusiasm behind promoting a political candidate, but it's unfair to come on private property without permission," he said. "I've had people think I'm in on it and am supporting a particular candidate, and it causes them to get very upset," he said.
"I encourage people to go and vote, but let's not mix politics with what's sacred," he said. "I won't let it happen on my church property."
Gloria Lehmer of the San Juan Democratic Party Headquarters said her group of volunteers also uses door hangers and yard signs, and are instructed not to distribute on church property, but said individual Democratic candidates may have done so in the past without her office's knowledge.
Chris Sanchez, communications director for the Heather Wilson campaign provided a written statement on Monday: "Heather Wilson is pro-life while her opponents in the New Mexico Senate race are pro-abortion, and Farmington voters deserve to know that. It's fairly common practice for Republican and Democrat supporters to distribute literature on parked cars during an election."
Sanchez confirmed that a group of pro-life San Juan County volunteers conducted Sunday's distribution, but did not respond to additional specific questions about his office's policy regarding distributing at churches.
Cordell encourages anyone with specific concerns or complaints about campaign issues to contact him at 505-486-2763.