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Decision No. 1173

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October 29 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Iowa Annual Conference Regarding Annual Conference “Rules for the Election of General and Jurisdictional Delegates” As They Relate to ¶¶ 162, 164, and 721

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference may adopt rules for the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates so long as said rules do not conflict with the 2008 Discipline. The rules adopted by the Iowa Annual Conference for the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates do not conflict with ¶¶ 162T, 164A, or 721 of the Discipline. The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

Prior to the close of the 2010 session of the Iowa Annual Conference, a written request for a bishop’s Decision of Law was submitted to the presiding bishop. The request was signed by a lay member of the Iowa Annual Conference. The Question of Law is as follows:

Is the Annual Conference allowed to adopt, in its rules for the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference Delegates, either or both of the following two provisions, each of which violates, ignores and is inconsistent with provisions of the 2008 Book of Discipline including but not limited to Paragraphs 162T, 164A and 721?
The request for a ruling of law arose because the Iowa Annual Conference adopted rules for the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates that contained provisions some thought violated the 2008 Discipline. The provision limited promotional materials of nominees to 250-words, and strongly discouraged nominees from distributing materials in mass mailings. The bishop ruled that the adopted rules for the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates in the Iowa Annual Conference did not violate the Discipline.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
In Decision 886, the Judicial Council ruled that an Annual Conference may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even if the disagreements are based upon conscientious objection to those provisions. Paragraph 604.1 permits annual conferences for their own government to adopt rules not in conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Decision

An Annual Conference may adopt rules for the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates so long as said rules do not conflict with the Discipline. The rules adopted by the Iowa Annual Conference for the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates do not conflict with ¶¶ 162T, 164A, or 721 of the Discipline. The bishop’s decision of law is affirmed. October 30, 2010

Concurring Opinion
I concur with my colleagues and I write to clarify that the second conference rule does not actually prohibit those running as delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference from providing additional information to annual conference members through other means. The rule does not prevent interested persons from participating in forums. Nor does the rule prohibit distribution of articles or handouts outside of the doors of the annual conference meeting. The conference rule also does not prohibit personal notes and personal e-mails. Thus, as long as individuals and their supporters are not prohibited from sharing information about candidates, especially a candidate’s views on various issues, then the annual conference rules are not impinging on the exchange and sharing of information that is necessary for an informed electorate. The General Conference has generally sought to provide fair guidelines and safeguards for the sharing of information by United Methodist interest groups with the delegates through the General Conference Plan of Organization (pp.1913-1914 of the 2008 General Conference Daily Christian Advocate, Volume 4, Number 3). In a similar vein, candidates and United Methodist related groups at annual conference ought not to be precluded from sharing materials under appropriate circumstances. Some of the guidelines used by General Conference for the distribution of unofficial materials by United Methodist related special interest groups provide the conditions for such distribution, including:
Material distributed should be used for information relative to matters that have been before or are coming before the General Conference and not for soliciting membership in an organization. Distribution method shall be at least 30 feet outside any entrance door to the plenary or committee meeting room. Distribution shall be done by representatives of the publishing groups. Distributors shall be in the smallest number capable of effecting adequate distribution to those entering. During distribution, it is the responsibility of the distributors not to impede or interfere with the entrance or exit of persons or to hamper the general flow of pedestrian traffic.[pp.1913-1914 of the 2008 General Conference. Daily Christian Advocate, Volume 4, Number 3]
With such guidelines, delegates who would prefer to not be exposed to unofficial materials are able to avoid same. Similarly, the delegates that appreciate reading the materials of all of the various unofficial and official groups in the denomination are able to easily obtain those materials each day as they enter the conference hall. It would likewise be my hope that within our annual conferences we are able to be respectful and distinguish between those members of our conferences that are eager to receive supplemental and unofficial materials and those who would prefer to avoid “unofficial” media. Finally, the cases cited, by those who are challenging the conference rules, are distinguishable from this case in that those cases required candidates to do something that was not required in the Discipline. Here, the conference rules are setting forth the limits on that which will be done by the office of the Conference Secretary (i.e., restricting candidates’ biographical sketches to no more than 250 words) and strongly urging candidates to observe a certain decorum and refrain from mass mailings. As long as the conference is not requiring candidates to provide biographical sketches (by precluding persons from the ballot if they do not submit a bio) and not sponsoring official forums or surveys as an annual conference, then the problems that occurred in the cases discussed in Decisions 842 and 1083 are not at issue in this case. Beth Capen October 30, 2010

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