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Decision No. 33

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May 07 1946
In Re: Ruling of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, in Response to a Request From Hallam Richardson During the New York East Annual Conference Held at Hanson Place Central Methodist Church, Brooklyn, New York, September 25 and 26, 1945

Digest of Case

The provision of Paragraph 914, Discipline 1944, limits the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council as to Declaratory Decisions so that they do not include moot or hypothetical questions; and the same principle applies to requests for rulings by a Bishop in an Annual Conference, which requests should be based upon some action taken or proposed to be taken, wherein under the specific facts in each case some doubt may have arisen as to the legality of the action taken or proposed.

Statement of Facts

At the session of the New York East Annual Conference, held at the Hanson Place-Central Methodist Church. Brooklyn, N. Y., September 25 and 26, 1945, Mr. Hallam Richardson made the following request for a Ruling: REQUEST FOR INTERPRETATIVE RULES "Last year, at the recommendation of the Chairman of the Committee on World Peace, and after hearing his report, the Conference called upon the Council of Bishops and other authorities of our Church to include what was referred to as a claim for the financial support of 600 of those in the CPS camps, and it is therefore desired to have a ruling as to the following questions: "1. Has The Methodist Church any 'Cardinal Tenet of Faith' opposed to Peacetime Conscription in Preparation for War or Military Service in Wartime? "2. Has The Methodist Church any teaching or substance of Doctrine that it is unchristian or sinful to keep and bear arms or participate in enforcing the law or overcoming law breakers by force of arms? "3. Has The Methodist Church any teaching or substance of Doctrine that human life is sacrosanct and that killings and executions classed as 'justified,' 'excusable' and/or 'necessary' under the laws of civilized states regulating peace enforcement or war restrictions connected with curbing marauding aggressions are condemned by the law of the Church? "4. Has The Methodist Church any teaching or substance of Doctrine to the effect that there is any scriptural authority that Christians should hold aloof from social, civic, political or judicial affairs (or any law or rule condemning those who actively endorse, support, and participate in the legislative, judicial or executive functions of local, state, national or world administration)? "5. Was Paragraph 1716, of the 1940 Discipline, a teaching of our Church, or a statement tolerating a minority interpretation of a matter of personal interpretation of a citizen's duty to a state in time of crisis? "6. Did The Methodist Church or any representatives speaking in its behalf promise financial support to members of Methodist churches going into CPS camps instead of into some branch of the armed services? "7. Did the United States Government negotiate in any way with any Council, Board, Commission or Committee of The Methodist Church relative to placing CPS campers in the hands of the Friends, Brethren and Mennonite groups? "8. In the light of the General Conference legislation on the subject, is there any Council, Board, Commission or Committee of The Methodist Church which has the authority to apportion any of the sums for Overseas Relief, Day of Compassion, Day of Dedication on other emergency world need offerings for CPS camp support?" THE RULING The Discipline does not give the Bishop the privilege of making Declaratory Judgments. This is a request, in effect, for such Declaratory Judgment. There is no legal question involved, since no action is cited in which it is alleged the law has been violated. These requests are really requests for information or the expression of opinion. Item 8 raises the question of the authority of an Annual Conference to, take a certain action. A Bishop is not allowed to rule in anticipation of an action.

Decision

It would seem to be sufficient to affirm the ruling of the presiding Bishop in this case and adopt his statement as the opinion of the Judicial Council. However, it seems wise to call attention to a fundamental principle which determines jurisdiction in cases of this character. Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline provides for Declaratory Decisions by the Judicial Council, but limits the jurisdiction as follows: "Moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided." We are of the opinion that this same principle should apply to requests for rulings by the Bishops in an Annual or a District Conference, and that any such request should be based upon some action taken or proposed to be taken by such Conference, wherein under the specific facts in each case some doubt may have arisen as to the legality of the action taken or proposed. It is not the duty of the presiding Bishop to rule upon any hypothetical question which may be propounded, nor to answer requests for information which involve no legal matter. The foregoing statement of principle would seem to call for no citation of authorities. It is stated here only that all members of Annual or District Conferences may be guided in making requests for rulings which are reviewable by the Judicial Council. For the reasons as stated, the Ruling of the Bishop in this case is hereby affirmed.

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