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Decision No. 858

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April 22 1999
In Re: Request from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality and Application of 714.1 of the 1996 Discipline.

Digest of Case

Par. 714.1 of the 1996 Discipline does not violate 15.14 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and is, therefore, constitutional.

Statement of Facts

The executive committee of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry , in session in Nashville, Tennessee on October 8, 1998, authorized the submission of a petition to the Judicial Council seeking a declaratory decision on the constitutionality and the application of ¶ 714.1 of the 1996 Discipline. At an oral hearing on April 22, 1999 in Orlando, Florida, Hector Navas and Kent M. Weeks appeared, representing the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under provision of ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry contends that ¶ 714.1 of the 1996 Discipline is in conflict with ¶ 15.14 of the Constitution and is, therefore, unconstitutional. Par. 714.1 sets a term limit for elected general program agency staff. It reads: No elected general program agency staff shall hold the same position more than twelve years. Years of service prior to January 1, 1989, are not counted. The agency responsible for the election of such staff may annually suspend this provision by a two-thirds ballot vote. Par. 15.14 deals with the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs and institutions of The United Methodist Church stating that the rights and privileges of membership may not be denied on the basis of race or status. It says: To secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry raises three issues to support its claim that ¶ 714.1 is unconstitutional. First, the board contends that ¶ 714.1 discriminates against general and associate general secretaries of program agencies as contrasted to general and associate general secretaries of general councils and administrative general agencies. Therefore the board believes, that ¶ 714.1 is in conflict with the Church’s clearly stated policies on nondiscrimination by status in ¶ 15.14 of the Constitution. Second, the board contends that the twelve-year limitation for election of a general secretary and associate general secretaries in ¶ 714.1 discriminates against laypersons. Lay general and associate general secretaries, unless the requirement is suspended, are automatically terminated after twelve years, whereas, clergy general and associate general secretaries retain the right to remain employed by the Church, albeit in another position. The board believes that this distinction between lay and clergy staff is a class distinction and therefore creates a preferred status which is unconstitutional pursuant to ¶ 15.14 of the Constitution. Third, the board contends that ¶ 714.1 is in conflict with the stated responsibilities of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry as set forth in ¶¶ 701.2, 711, 1406.2, and 1406.4 which specifically provide that program agencies are to exercise full fiduciary and administrative oversight of their boards. It is the board’s contention that the twelve-year term limitation runs counter to those responsibilities and therefore should be declared null and void. All of the arguments which the Board of Higher Education and Ministry uses to sustain their contention that ¶ 714.1 violates ¶ 15.14 of the Constitution are made on the basis of expanding the meaning of membership to include matters of employment. Par. 15.14 deals specifically with General Conference having the authority "to secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status." It is the council’s opinion that the word, "membership," specifically means those who are duly elected as directors and/or members of the various agencies, programs and institutions of The United Methodist Church. And, it is further held, that the term, "membership," cannot be interpreted to include matters of employment.

Decision

Par. 714.1 of the 1996 Discipline does not violate ¶ 15.14 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and is, therefore, constitutional.

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