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Decision No. 897

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October 26 2000
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference on Whether a Motion Entitled “Affirmation of the Goodness of Human Sexuality” Could Be Adopted in Light of the 1996 Discipline and Judicial Council Decision 886.

Digest of Case

Debate and a vote on a proposed resolution was erroneously suspended when the presiding bishop deferred ruling on a question of law until after adjournment of the annual conference session. The question of law was not rendered moot by this erroneous action. The request for a decision of law is remanded to Bishop Elias G. Galvan for an answer by February 1, 2001. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction and this matter is continued to the Spring 2001 docket.

Statement of Facts

At the June 17, 2000 morning session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, the Legislative Committee on Conference and Church Order presented its Report #10 which contained a resolution entitled “Affirmation of the Goodness of Human Sexuality” with a recommendation of concurrence. Prior to any vote being taken on the resolution by the annual conference, a clergy member requested a decision on a question of law which was submitted in writing in the regular business of a session of the annual conference. The written request stated: In light of Judicial Council Decision # 886, is it lawful for the petition in Report #10 to be offered (or commended) in the name of the Annual Conference. Judicial Council Decision # 886 says the Annual Conference may not “legally violate, negate, or ignore” the Book of Discipline, even for conscionable reasons. In view of the fact that the petition invites members of the Annual Conference to defy the will of the General Conference and the Book of Discipline (see petition CC-6, lines 40-42, 46-48, pg. CC-7, lines 1-3, 4-5, 8-11, 14-22), I ask for the Bishop to rule on whether this petition may lawfully be offered (commended) to the members of conference in the name of the Annual Conference, in light of Judicial Council Decision # 886. Further, I ask this ruling be submitted to the Judicial Council for review. (Original Emphasis). Further discussion of the proposed resolution was postponed pending the bishop’s decision. During the afternoon session on June 17, 2000, the bishop informed the Annual Conference that he needed more time to research the issue, and would take up to thirty days to review the matter. His final ruling would then be subject to review by the Judicial Council, he reported. Therefore, further action on the proposed resolution was suspended. By written decision dated July 7, 2000, the bishop stated the following: The Question of Law was presented before the Annual Conference had an opportunity to act on Report #10 from the legislative committee on Conference and Church Order. This request had the effect of suspending parliamentary action on this report pending the Bishop’s ruling. After a closer review of [the] request, I judged the request to be premature and hypothetical and moot and not to be decided per Decision #33, since the Annual Conference had not as yet taken action either approving or rejecting Report #10. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The request for a decision of law was appropriately made during the regular business of a session of the Annual Conference. The request was appropriately made prior to a vote on the resolution under consideration. Par. 2613 provides, "[n]ormally, the bishop shall rule before the close of the annual conference session during which the question was submitted, but in no case later than thirty (30) days after the close of the session.” The bishop was authorized to delay his decision and to announce it within thirty days after the close of the session. Debate and a vote on the proposed resolution was erroneously suspended once the presiding bishop determined that he was not going to make his ruling prior to the close of the annual conference session. Rather, debate and a vote should have been permitted to proceed. If the proposed resolution had been defeated, then the request for a decision of law would have been moot. If the proposed resolution had been adopted, the ruling on the question of law would still have been appropriate. Had the bishop answered the question of law by ruling that the proposed resolution was unlawful, the resolution would have been of no force and effect. We commend the bishop for his desire to perform the necessary research to render a considered ruling on the question of law. If at all possible, the business of the annual conference should not be impeded . In handling written questions of law submitted for rulings, the presiding bishop and the annual conference should make every effort to permit the discussion of issues to proceed. Any proposal should be perfected as far as possible, subject to the bishop’s decision of law, which may be issued thereafter. The consequence of what transpired has left the parties unsatisfied, and the issue raised by both the question of law and in the proposed resolution unaddressed. Such a result undermines the effectiveness of the legislative process and diminishes respect for the process. In the future, under similar circumstances, if a decision of law is not to be made until after the adjournment of the annual conference session, the pending legislative matter should be acted upon by the annual conference, if possible, subject to the bishop’s ruling. If a decision to delay action is to occur, it must be made by the annual conference. The bishop's ruling that a decision of law was “premature and hypothetical and moot and not to be decided . . . since the Annual Conference had not as yet taken action either approving or rejecting” the proposed resolution is also in error. Decision 33, relied upon by the bishop, compels this conclusion. In Decision 33, the Judicial Council held that a request for a decision of law “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.” Decision 33 precisely describes the situation presented here. The question of law presented to the bishop was based upon an action proposed to be taken. The specific facts were presented. The bishop had the necessary information before him to make such a ruling. The request was not premature when made and it did not involve a hypothetical situation because there was a pending resolution to be reviewed. If the matter has become moot, it is because further consideration of the proposed resolution was suspended in error, and with adjournment, the 2000 Annual Conference can no longer act upon the proposed resolution. As noted above, if the proper course had been followed, the question of law taken under advisement by the bishop may have been rendered moot by the defeat of the proposed resolution. Unfortunately, we do not know whether such an event would have occurred. We decline to hold that the matter is now moot because of the error in suspending further consideration of the proposed resolution during the annual conference session. The request for a decision of law continues to raise an important issue that deals with existing facts. Pursuant to Decision 791, this matter is remanded to the bishop for a ruling on the question of law which he took under advisement. Both the proponents of the proposed resolution and those who have asserted that the proposed resolution is unlawful are entitled to a decision on the outstanding question. The bishop’s decision and its subsequent review by the Judicial Council will provide guidance to the parties if they advance the resolution during the next annual conference session.

Decision

Debate and a vote on a proposed resolution was erroneously suspended when the presiding bishop deferred ruling on a question of law until after adjournment of the annual conference session. The question of law was not rendered moot by this erroneous action. The request for a decision of law is remanded to Bishop Elias G. Galvan for an answer by February 1, 2001. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction and this matter is continued to the Spring 2001 docket.

Dissenting Opinion We disagree that Bishop Elias Galvan did not give a proper answer in this situation. We feel he was correct in declining to act until he had studied the situation fully. Further, it is not apparent to us that the resolution under consideration was withdrawn from further action by Bishop Galvan. A careful reading of the relevant portion of the minutes and the ruling of Bishop Galvan leads us to believe the resolution was withdrawn from further action by the committee which had proposed it. Sally Curtis AsKew Sally Brown Geis Larry D. Pickens

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