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Decision No. 819

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April 24 1998
In Re: Request from Alaska Missionary Conference for a Declaratory Decision on Qualifications for Lay Members of Annual Conference.

Digest of Case

1. In accordance with Decision 811 (October 1997) the first question presented, i.e., whether four-year olds are eligible for election as lay members of Annual Conference, is moot. 2. The language of ¶ 253.2 of the 1996 Discipline which reads "...and from the local church from which they are elected..." is in addition to, and more restrictive than, the language of ¶ 30, with regard to the qualifications of persons for eligibility for election as lay members of the Annual Conference is unconstitutional under Decision 622. 3. Qualifications enumerated in the United Methodist Constitution, for election to office, are exclusive and the General Conference may not add to those qualifications.

Statement of Facts

At its 1997 Annual Conference, the Alaska Missionary Conference voted to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on these questions: 1. Whether four-year olds are eligible for election as lay members of annual conference if they were baptized at or shortly after birth and remain continuously active in The United Methodist Church following baptism, in accordance with Paragraphs 215 and 216 of the 1996 Discipline. 2. Whether the qualifications for election of lay members to annual conference which are contained in Paragraph 253.2 of the 1996 Discipline, and which are in addition to, and more restrictive than Paragraph 30, are enforceable as to local churches and annual conferences. 3. Whether the General Conference may add qualifications for election to office without amending the Constitution. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale In Decision 811 (October, 1997), the Judicial Council declared ¶ 215 of the 1996 Discipline unconstitutional; therefore, the first question presented is moot. As to questions numbers 2 and 3, ¶ 253.2 of the 1996 Discipline is the same as ¶ 252.2 of the 1992 Discipline and reads as follows: Both the lay members [of annual conference] and the alternates shall have been members in good standing of The United Methodist Church and of the local church from which they are elected for at least two years and shall have been active participants for at least four years next preceding their election. [Emphasis added]. The Judicial Council in Decision 622 declared the addition of the requirement of "...and of the local church from which they are elected..." unconstitutional, and the inclusion of this phrase in the 1992 and 1996 Disciplines was an error. The Constitution, in ¶ 30 of the 1996 Discipline, states, in pertinent part, that: The lay members [of annual conference] shall have been for the two years next preceding their election members of The United Methodist Church and shall have been active participants in The United Methodist Church for at least four years next preceding their election. The Constitution, in ¶ 15.15, authorizes the General Conference "To enact such other legislation as may be necessary, subject to the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the Church." [Emphasis added]. The language of ¶ 253.2 of the 1996 Discipline, which requires memberships in the local church from which elected for a specific time period, is in addition to, and more restrictive than, the language of ¶ 30, and is, therefore, unconstitutional. Legislative action which is unconstitutional is null and void and unenforceable. The General Conference does not have the authority to enact legislation which has the effect of changing the Constitution. (See Decision 811.)

Decision

Based on Decision 811, the first question presented is moot. The language of ¶ 253.2 of the 1996 Discipline, which adds to, and is more restrictive than, the language of ¶ 30, relating to the qualifications for election as lay members of Annual Conference is unconstitutional and is, therefore, null and void, and unenforceable. The General Conference cannot add to or otherwise alter the language of the Constitution. Changes in the language of the Constitution must be by constitutional amendment, not by legislative enactment. This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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