Decision Number 176
Constitutionality of Resolution of General Conference Relating to the So-called Sit-in Demonstrations
The action of the 1960 General Conference in adopting the resolution relating to the so-called sit-in demonstrations was not unconstitutional.
Statement of Facts
On May 7, 1960 at the General Conference held in Denver, Colorado, there was published in the Daily Christian Advocate, Report No. 26 of the Committee on State of the Church on the subject of "Human Rights." In this report, appearing as calendar number 279 on page 529 of the Daily Christian Advocate, the Committee recommended the adoption of the following memorial:
"We regret that many citizens of our country are denied basic human rights. The recent wave of sit-in demonstrations and picketing at lunch counters has reminded us of such denials.
"We commend participating students for the dignified, non-violent manner in which they have conducted themselves. We further commend the good professional performance of police forces which have prevented chaos in those cities where the demonstrations have occurred. Should such demonstrations continue, we hope they will be carried out in a similar manner. Demonstrations must be seen as a means of awakening community conscience and not as a goal in themselves. Economic sanctions of any kind should be viewed as a last resort when attempts at negotiation fail.
"Students should be free to exercise their personal Christian responsibilities. Methodist institutions should not penalize students who do so.
"All of us must recognize that the dimensions of social change are tremendous. We view the present action by students as a challenge to community responsibility - a challenge to accept Negroes in their respective communities on terms of dignity."
On May 9th a motion was made for the adoption of the resolution (page 629 - Daily Christian Advocate), and after some discussion the motion to adopt the resolution was carried (page 632 - Daily Christian Advocate).
Thereafter, a motion was made to appeal to the Judicial Council the constitutionality of the resolution thus adopted. The motion was made by John A. Dickson, Jr., of the Louisiana Conference in the South Central Jurisdiction in the following language:
"Mr. Chairman, my point of privilege is that I wish to move this Conference appeal according to the Discipline, Paragraph 904, to the Judicial Council the constitutionality of legislation passed this morning bearing calendar No. 279. I so move. I would like, Mr. Chairman, to point out the basis of the appeal briefly and I do not wish to argue it. The basis of the appeal lies in the Constitution of the Church under restrictive rules, Paragraph 9 of the Discipline.
"The General Conference shall not revoke, alter or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary....
"I read from the Articles of Religion, Paragraph 87 of the Discipline, 'It is the duty of all Christians, and especially of all Christian ministers, to observe and obey laws and commands of the governing or supreme authority of the country of which they are citizens or in which they reside'; and Paragraph 83 which has to do with the same matter."
The motion to appeal was adopted by a vote of more than one-fifth of the members of the General Conference.
We have jurisdiction under Subparagraph 1 of Article II of Division Four of the Constitution of The Methodist Church designated as Paragraph 43 of the 1960 Discipline, which provides that the Judicial Council has authority to determine the constitutionality of any act of the General Conference upon an appeal of one-fifth of the members of General Conference, and the provisions of Subparagraph 1 of Paragraph 904 of the 1960 Discipline containing similar provisions.
Analysis and Rationale
The sole question raised on this appeal is whether the act of the General Conference in adopting the resolution is in violation of the Constitution of the Church and, particularly, in violation of the first restrictive rule contained therein. This rule is a part of Section II of Division Two of the Constitution, is codified as Subparagraph 1 of Paragraph 9 of the 1960 Discipline, and is as follows:
"The General Conference shall not revoke, alter or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine."
It is suggested on this appeal that the act of the General Conference either revokes, alters or changes, or is in violation of Paragraph 87 of the 1960 Discipline, which is as follows:
"It is the duty of all Christians, and especially all Christian ministers, to observe and obey the laws and commands of the governing or supreme authority of the country of which they are citizens or subjects or in which they reside and to use all laudable means to encourage and enjoin obedience to the powers that be."
It has been held by the Judicial Council in a carefully considered opinion (Decision No. 41, April 24, 1947), that the language of Paragraph 87, above quoted, is a legislative but not a constitutional part of the Articles of Religion.
Article of Religion Number XXIII, codified as Paragraph 83, 1960 Discipline, mentioned in the motion to appeal, is as follows:
"The President, the Congress, the general assemblies, the governors, and the councils of states as the delegates of the people, are the rulers of the United States of America, according to the division of power made to them by the Constitution of the United States and by the constitutions of their respective states. And the said states are a sovereign and independent nation, and ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction."
While the adoption of the resolution was an "act" of the General Conference, it is not in any sense a "legislative act" since it does not add anything to, nor does it alter, change or revoke the Articles of Religion or any part of the law of the Church, nor does it establish any new standards or rules of doctrine. It does not, therefore, as suggested, violate the restrictive rule contained in the Constitution and codified as Paragraph 9 of the Discipline.
It is clear that the questioned resolution does not violate the provisions of Article of Religion XXIII, codified as Paragraph 83, of the Discipline. The language of the resolution does not relate in any manner to the subject matter of that article.
Because the language of Paragraph 87 of the Discipline is a legislative enactment and not a part of the Constitution, it is immaterial for the purpose of this appeal whether the questioned resolution contravenes its provisions. The only question before us is the constitutionality of the act of the General Conference in adopting the resolution.
We, therefore, do not decide the question as to whether the resolution either directly or by innuendo advocates or commends disobedience to the laws and commands of the governing or supreme authority of the country of which the sit-in demonstrators are citizens.
The act of the General Conference in adopting the resolution relating to the so-called sit-in demonstrations was not a legislative act and the resolution does not revoke, alter or change the Articles of Religion of the Church, nor does it establish any new standards or rules of doctrine. It is, therefore, not in violation of that part of the Constitution of the Church contained in Paragraph 9 of the 1960 Discipline.
Since Paragraph 87 of the Discipline is not a part of the Constitution of the Church, it follows that the language of the resolution does not violate the Constitution of the Church.
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the resolution of the General Conference is not in violation of the Constitution and that the act of the General Conference in adopting it was not unconstitutional.