Decision Number 225
Petition of the Secretarial Council of the Inter-board Commission on the Local Church for a Declaratory Decision with Reference to the Right of Local Churches to Determine Who May Attend Their Services of Worship
The Secretarial Council of the Inter board Commission on the Local Church is not such a "general conference board or body" as is authorized by Paragraph 914 of the Discipline to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council; and, in any event, the issue raised has become moot by the 1964 enactment of Paragraph 106.1 of the Discipline. The Judicial Council, therefore, declines to render a declaratory decision on this petition.
Statement of Facts
On or about March 5. 1965, A. Dudley Ward, Chairman, and Robert G. Mayfield, Secretary of the Secretarial Council of the Inter board Commission on the Local Church, filed a petition with this Council alleging that certain paragraphs of the 1960 Discipline seemed to be of doubtful meaning with respect to the practices of racial segregation in local Methodist churches. Said petition also alleges that the Secretarial Council of the Interboard Commission on the Local Church is a "body" of the General Conference entitled to petition the Judicial Council; and that alleged policies and practices of racial segregation in local churches relate to and affect the work of the said Secretarial Council.
As we understand it, the burden of the petitioner's brief is that at intervals between October 6, 1963, and March 29, 1964, some 34 individuals attempted to worship at certain Methodist Churches in Jackson, Mississippi, but were denied admission to the churches because they were in groups composed of both white and colored persons. The applicants for admission insisted upon being admitted and, upon refusing to leave the church premises when requested by local church officials to do so, they were arrested, tried and convicted in the civil courts of the State of Mississippi for disturbing the peace or disturbing public worship. The cases are now on appeal. The petitioners seek a ruling from the Judicial Council that the local churches exceeded their authority in refusing to permit the 34 individuals to participate in services of worship; and express the hope that a decision by the Council on this issue would be helpful to the defense of the accused persons.
The petitioner justifies our jurisdiction to entertain its petition by the argument that the freedom of all persons, irrespective of race or color, to attend the worship services of local churches of Methodism is "relevant to the work of the mandatory commissions in the local churches, and consequently are inescapably relevant to the work of the comparable general boards represented on the Interboard Commission on the Local Church."
The Interboard Commission coordinates the activities of the Boards represented on it. See Paragraphs 1160, 1162.1, 1162.2 and 1163 of the 1964 Discipline.
The Secretarial Council is an instrumentality of the Interboard Commission, with responsibilities defined in Paragraph 1163 of the 1964 Discipline as follows:
"It shall be the function of this council to facilitate cooperation among the boards in the creative planning of programs and in avoiding overlapping of function or duplicating of activity."
For the reasons hereinafter stated, the Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction to render a declaratory decision in this matter.
It is apparent to us that the Secretarial Council of the Interboard Commission on the Local Church is not such a "body" in The Methodist Church as is privileged to file a petition with the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision under Paragraph 914. While the Secretarial Council is organized at the direction of the General Conference, its function is to serve as the administrative arm of the Interboard Commission on the Local Church. It is the Commission rather than the Secretarial Council which is the "board or body" of the General Conference entitled to petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision under Paragraph 914. We, therefore, hold that we do not have jurisdiction to entertain the petition of the Secretarial Council.
But we are unanimous in our judgment that the issue raised by the petition has become moot. The acts complained of in the petition occurred between October, 1963 and March, 1964. Any doubt as to whether the cited actions of the local churches were within their rights was put to rest by action of the General Conference in May, 1964 when the policy of the Church was determined to be as follows:
"106.1. The Methodist Church is a part of the Church Universal. Therefore all persons, without regard to race, color, national origin, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, to participate in its programs, and, when they take the appropriate vows, to be admitted into its membership in any local church in the connection.
. . . . . "106.3 A member of a local Methodist church is a member of The Methodist Church anywhere in the connection."
There is no ambiguity in the position of The Methodist Church on the right of all persons to attend its worship services or, after appropriate vows, to be admitted to membership in any local church in the connection. If there was doubt prior to the action of the General Conference in May, 1964, it has been removed. Consequently, no board or body of the Church can claim that its work is presently, or hereafter will be, affected by an asserted ambiguity in the legislation of the Church as it existed between October, 1963 and March, 1964. The petition must be dismissed because the issue sought to be raised has become moot.
On his own motion, John D. Humphrey disqualified himself from participation in this decision.
The Secretarial Council of the Inter board Commission on the Local Church is not a "board or body" of the General Conference which is entitled to petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision under Paragraph 914. In any event, the question sought to be raised by the petition, i.e., the right of a local church to determine who may attend its worship services has been determined by General Conference enactment of Paragraph 106.1 in May, 1964; and any asserted ambiguity as to the position of The Methodist Church prior to that date can no longer affect the work of any board or body of the General Conference.
We dissent from the majority of opinion on the question of jurisdiction. The holding by the majority that the Secretarial Council of the Interboard Commission on the Local Church is not a General Conference "body" authorized to petition the Judicial Council for declaratory decision within the meaning of Paragraph 914, we believe is too narrow and restrictive.
The Survey Commission to the General Conference of 1952 on "Administrative Agencies" reported and defined the administrative agencies of The Methodist Church as being "all committees, commissions, bureaus, or sections, divisions, boards, departments and councils (except the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council) created by the General Conference for the purpose of performing a specific function or functions." (Emphasis added.) (1952 Daily Christian Advocate page 26; see also Decisions 139 and 205)
Subsequently the General Conference adopted the substance of the Survey Commission report (Paragraph 1071) which is Part VII of the Discipline entitled Administrative Agencies. Chapter V of Part VII creates the Interboard Commission on the Local Church (Paragraph 1160) and the Secretarial Council for the purpose of implementing the work of the Interboard Commission (Paragraph 1163).
We believe Paragraph 914 was intended to be liberally construed and that any General Conference board or body, on matters relating to or affecting the work of such board or body, is authorized to petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision.
It appears clear to us that the Secretarial Council of the Interboard Commission on the Local Church created to implement the work of the Commission is a "body" of the General Conference and its petition for declaratory decision should be considered as within the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council. Had our view on the question of jurisdiction been adopted by the majority, we would and do concur in the holding that the issues raised by the petition of the Secretarial Council are moot by the adoption of Paragraph 106 of the Discipline by the 1964 General Conference; and that Paragraph 106 is constitutional, and that the Judicial Council should not lend itself to rendering decisions on matters that are moot by reason of existing law of The Methodist Church. We have so held in decisions 189 and 193.