THE CONNECTIONAL COUNCIL AND THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF FRANK E. JONES

DECISION No. 2012-29

The case comes before the Council by petition for declaratory judgment filed by Rev. Frank E. Jones, a member in good standing of the New York Conference, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, hereinafter referred to as (“The A.M.E. Zion Church”), pursuant to the Act passed by 1988 General Conference and in accordance with the Rules of the Judicial Council, (as amended) which reads in part as follows:

 

JURISDICTION

 

a)  The Council shall have appellate function.

 

b)  The Council shall not have original jurisdiction, since decisions are declaratory and final in the interim of the General Conference.

 

c)  The Council is amenable to the General Conference, and any decision of the Council may be reversed or modified by the General Conference in regular or special session.”  Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (hereinafter referred to as “The Discipline”) 2008, Article II, ¶ 360. 

 

DUTIES

 

b)  To hear and make declaratory judgments when petitioned to do so when any law is subject to more than one interpretation or any paragraph in the Book of Discipline is of doubtful meaning.   Any person in good and regular standing in The A.M.E. Zion Church can petition the Judicial Council for such a judgment.  The Council's decision is final, unless revised or reversed by the General Conference.”  Id. Par. 361, Art. III.

FACTS

 

            No testimony was presented to the Council other than the petition.  No hearing was requested as none is needed.  Petitioner cites that at the Connectional Council in Houston, TX on July 21, 2011; it was reported that the Board of Bishops  of The AME Zion Church formed a Legislative Commission, according to the mandate of the 48th General Conference, and appointed members from the twelve Episcopal Districts.  The Purpose of the Commission was to develop an effective process by which to receive and approve Resolutions, which would be presented at the 2011 Connectional Council for approval.  At said Connectional Council the Legislative Commission reported:

 

1.              Recommend an Annual Conference Resolution Committee be formed, appointed by the Bishop of the respective Conference, to receive Resolutions in that Conference and determine whether the submitted resolutions have merit or non-merit.  The Annual Conference Resolution Committee would forward those recommendations that it deemed to have merit to the General Secretary.

 

2.              Recommend that the foregoing recommendation be incorporated into the Legislative Flow Chart (p. 337, Discipline: 2008), which represent a change in the Flow Chart.

 

The adoption and implementation of the aforementioned recommendations of the Legislative Commission usurp the right of full and complete participation in the entire legislative process, as set forth in the Legislative Flow Chart (Discipline 2008).  A Declaratory Judgment is, hereby, requested on the following questions

 

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

 

1.  Do the published minutes of the proceedings and actions taken at and by the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church contain the official and authorized account and record of all matters that came before and approved by the General Conference?

 

2.  Did the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference adopt the usage of the 2004 Discipline and Roberts Rules of Order as its fundamental guide and parliamentary authority?

 

3.  Is the Constitution of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church the fundamental law which establishes the character and principles of the Church and how it is to be governed?

 

4.  Is there any report or documented evidence from the General Conference Resolutions Committee or any other committee of the General Conference certifying to the official delegates of the 2008 General Conference that there is a prevailing need to develop a new process for receiving resolutions from delegates to the General Conference?

 

5.  Would any new legislative process for submitting resolutions from delegates to the General Conference require a revision of the current law which authorizes the legislative process as outlined in the Legislative Flowchart?

 

6.  Is the General Conference the only body in The A.M.E. Zion Church that has the power and authority to revise or amend the current law that authorizes and sets forth the legislative process for submitting resolutions by delegates to the General Conference as outlined in the Legislative Flowchart?

 

7.  Are there provisions in the Constitution and Discipline that permit the Board of Bishops, Connectional Council, a Commission or any other entity within The A.M.E. Zion Church to determine the operational methods and procedures of the General Conference without the prior approval of such by majority vote of the official delegates of the General Conference meeting in regular session or special session?

 

8.  Does the Constitution of The A.M.E. Zion Church grant power and authority to the General Conference permitting it to delegate its "full legislative power" to the Board of Bishops, the Connectional Council or a Commission to act in or on its behalf to make laws, refine, revise and amend existing laws and regulations for the operation of the General Conference and the entire Connection of The A.M.E. Zion Church?

 

9.  Do the Minutes of the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference contain succinctly any motion made by an official delegate and approved by majority vote of the General Conference which grants to "the Commission … authority to review, refine and revise the current General Conference Legislative Process as set forth in the 2004 Discipline" and to authorize the Connectional Council to act in and on behalf of the General Conference to approve such?

 

10. Do the Minutes of the 48th Quadrennial Session specifically outline an approved procedure by the General Conference for establishing the operation of the Commission in the following manner: "After the review, the Commission shall submit its findings and revised General Conference Legislative Process for review and approval by majority vote of the 2010 Connectional Council"?

 

11. Do the Minutes of the 48th Session of the General Conference after the approval of "a commission" show that the Presiding Officer gave special instructions for "a commission" to follow and have authority to review, refine and revise the existing law outlining the legislative process and flowchart in the 2004 Discipline with the approval of the Connectional Council?

 

12. Does the Connectional Council of 2011 or at any time have the constitutional or legislative legal authority to approve the recommendation of "the General, Conference Commission on Legislative Process" to review, refine and revise the current law on the legislative process for submitting Resolutions by Delegates to the General Conference by establishing the Annual Conference Resolution Committed to determine the merits and non-merit of resolutions before they are submitted to the General Secretary and to put the new legislative law in operations for the 2012 General Conference?

 

13. Does the legislative process (Discipline, par, 130, 2004; par. 131, 2008) which is defined and outlined in the Legislative Flowchart (Discipline, p. 365, 2004; p. 337, 2008) continue to be the existing law of The A.M.E. Church?

 

DECISION

 

1.  Do the published minutes of the proceedings and actions taken at and by the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church contain the official and authorized account and record of all matters that came before and approved by the General Conference?

 

The question presented is not one that can be entertained by the Judicial Council. The question does not make reference to any law which may be subject to more than one interpretation or any paragraph in The Book of Discipline which is of doubtful meaning, nor does it present any appeal from a decision on a question or ruling from a Bishop  Connectional Council or Annual Conference from a decision of a trial court. It is the duty of the General Secretary-Auditor to record the proceedings of the General Conference and take charge of the Journal, the Books, papers, documents, and other property belonging to the General Conference not otherwise provided for. The Discipline, Part VII, Chapter One, para. 374(1) and (3). Paragraph 121 in Part II, Chapter One of The Discipline prohibits the exclusion of any amendments adopted by the General Conference from The Discipline. It is not the duty of the Judicial Council to certify published minutes as "the official and authorized account and record of all matters" that came before a particular session of the General Conference.

 

2.  Did the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference adopt the usage of the 2004 Discipline and Roberts Rules of Order as its fundamental guide and parliamentary authority?

 

The Judicial Council has not been empowered to report on the proceedings of any session of the General Conference.

 

3.  Is the Constitution of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church the fundamental law which establishes the character and principles of the Church and how it is to be governed?

 

            Generally, organizations have some kind of document containing its basic rules of organization. Some called it their Constitution, some their bylaws, while others may not distinguish them. While the Constitution and bylaws could be separate documents, it is not unusual for them to be consolidated into one document. The Constitution contains (1) the name of the organization, (2) its object, (3) members, (4) officers and (5) meetings. These are the basic tenets of an organization. The bylaws would contain additional ones, i.e. (6) executive board or governing board, (7) committees, (8) parliamentarian authority, and (9) amendments. Another difference between the Constitution and bylaws is that the Constitution is much more difficult to amend. In the case of the AME Zion Church, rather than referred to the name bylaws we have what is known as The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (The Discipline). By definition the term Constitution refers to the fundamental law of the organization, while the bylaws are generally the regulations and rules adopted by the organization. As related to the AME Zion Church, The Discipline is the historic document used by Zion to contain its regulations and rules. This document is known throughout the Connection and is the one document that is referred to by everyone as the governing document. However, since it incorporates the Constitution, and the Constitution gives the basic fundamental establishment of the organization, it is of a broad scope memorializing the fundamental nature of institution. On the other hand The Discipline as spelled out in The Discipline by the Commission on Discipline Codification "The Discipline is the instrument for setting forth the laws, plan, polity, and process by which the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church governs itself." There is no such language in the Constitution as printed within The Discipline. However, there is a very critical element which tends to identify which document is controlling. That element is the requirement for changing or amending the document. As for The Discipline, the one requirement is that the General Conference can amend, and modify it by a majority vote of the conference; whereas, the Constitution requires a two thirds vote of the members present at the General Conference and voting, and ratification by all 2/3 of the annual conferences immediately following the General Conference. Clearly, it is more difficult to amend the Constitution than it is to amend The Discipline. Therefore the question presented must be answered in the affirmative, that The Constitution of The A.M.E. Zion Church is the fundamental law which establishes the character and principles of the Church and how it is to be governed.

 

            4.  Is there any report or documented evidence from the General Conference Resolutions Committee or any other committee of the General Conference certifying to the official delegates of the 2008 General Conference that there is a prevailing need to develop a new process for receiving resolutions from delegates to the General Conference?

 

There is nothing in this question that pertains to an interpretation of church law.  The petitioner wants the Council to consider the argument, as presented in the question, that no such evidence exists that certifies the need for a new legislative process for introducing resolutions.  Yet the petitioner requests a declaratory judgment, which calls for an interpretation of existing law.  If the petitioner’s aim was to appeal some action instituted by some organ of the church, said petitioner should have filed for an appeal of such action (under Paragraph 366. Article VIII, section e).  Question # 4 is inappropriate for the type of petition that the petitioner requested.

 

5.  Would any new legislative process for submitting resolutions from delegates to the General Conference require a revision of the current law which authorizes the legislative process as outlined in the Legislative Flowchart?

 

A new legislative process for submitting resolutions that revises or amends the legislative Flow Chart (The Discipline (2008, at p. 337) would be a replacement of existing church law. 

 

6.  Is the General Conference the only body in The A.M.E. Zion Church that has the power and authority to revise or amend the current law that authorizes and sets forth the legislative process for submitting resolutions by delegates to the General Conference as outlined in the Legislative Flowchart?

 

Paragraph 121 states: “…Only the General Conference can change legislation once adopted by it in regular or special session.”   Some may interpret certain laws pertaining to The Board of Bishops or The Connectional Council as having the right to change legislation, when deemed “good for the denomination” in the former case and “necessary for the successful operations of the several boards” in the latter case. 

 

A case in point is Paragraph 134 (in relation to The Board of Bishops), which states “… They may give advice or directions and shall have the power to make such adjustments as in the opinion of the majority may be for the good of the denomination-these as they in their judgment consider wise and imperative.”  Furthermore consider paragraph 142 (pertaining to The Connectional Council): “The council shall exercise executive power over and possess all the rights vested in the several connectional boards…and shall have authority to make and enforce such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the successful operations of the several boards.”  To interpret these laws or rules as granting limited legislative authority to either The Board of Bishops or The Connectional Council would be to misinterpret the law of the church, when taken as a whole.  The latter references of law are too generalized to circumvent compliance with the explicit nature and intent of Paragraph 121.  

 

7.  Are there provisions in the Constitution and Discipline that permit the Board of Bishops, Connectional Council, a Commission or any other entity within The A.M.E. Zion Church to determine the operational methods and procedures of the General Conference without the prior approval of such by majority vote of the official delegates of the General Conference meeting in regular session or special session?

 

            There are no provisions for any entity within the A.M.E. Zion Church to determine the operational methods and procedures of the General Conference without the prior approval of the delegates to the General Conference meeting in regular or special session.  The Discipline, Article VII, para. 19 (2008).

 

The operational methods and procedures of the General Conference are already established in The Book of Discipline. These procedures have been established by legislation passed by the General Conference. Paragraph 121 of the 2008 The Discipline states that "The General Conference is the supreme ruling or lawmaking body of The A.M.E. Zion Church while in session. Only the General Conference can change legislation once adopted by it in regular or special session."  Subparagraph 1 of that same paragraph states that: “No committee, commission, council, conference or board, including the Board of Bishops shall have the authority are right to exclude any amendments adopted by the General Conference from The Discipline of the AME Zion The." If one of these entities within themselves or collectively determine the operational methods and procedures of the General Conference, other than what is already printed in The Discipline would be tantamount to excluding a provision from The Discipline of which they have no authority to do. Therefore the question presented must be answered negatively, that is, there is no provision in the Constitution or Discipline that permits the said organizations from determining such operational methods and procedures for the General Conference.

 

8.  Does the Constitution of The A.M.E. Zion Church grant power and authority to the General Conference permitting it to delegate its "full legislative power" to the Board of Bishops, the Connectional Council or a Commission to act in or on its behalf to make laws, refine, revise and amend existing laws and regulations for the operation of the General Conference and the entire Connection of The A.M.E. Zion Church?

 

            The Constitution grants no such power and/or authority to the Board of Bishops or Connectional Council (The Book of Discipline, Article VIII, Para. 20, page 5 (2008).

 

9.  Do the Minutes of the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference contain succinctly any motion made by an official delegate and approved by majority vote of the General Conference which grants to "the Commission … authority to review, refine and revise the current General Conference Legislative Process as set forth in the 2004 Discipline" and to authorize the Connectional Council to act in and on behalf of the General Conference to approve such?

 

          The Minutes of the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference is a document that speaks for itself. The Judicial Council is not authorized to review the minutes for the purpose of declaring them as a complete record of the proceedings of a session of the General Conference.

 

            10. Do the Minutes of the 48th Quadrennial Session specifically outline an approved procedure by the General Conference for establishing the operation of the Commission in the following manner: "After the review, the Commission shall submit its findings and revised General Conference Legislative Process for review and approval by majority vote of the 2010 Connectional Council?”

 

            The Minutes of the 48th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference is a document that speaks for itself.  The Judicial Council is not authorized to serve as a resource for inquirers seeking information regarding the proceedings of the General Conference.

 

11. Do the Minutes of the 48th Session of the General Conference after the approval of "a commission" show that the Presiding Officer gave special instructions for "a commission" to follow and have authority to review, refine and revise the existing law outlining the legislative process and flowchart in the 2004 Discipline with the approval of the Connectional Council?

 

See answer to 10 above.

 

12. Does the Connectional Council of 2011 or at any time have the constitutional or legislative legal authority to approve the recommendation of "the General, Conference Commission on Legislative Process" to review, refine and revise the current law on the legislative process for submitting Resolutions by Delegates to the General Conference by establishing the Annual Conference Resolution Committed to determine the merits and non-merit of resolutions before they are submitted to the General Secretary.. And to put the new legislative law in operations for the 2012 General Conference?

 

The answer to this question is clearly stated in The Discipline which states that:

 

The General Conference shall have power to revise and amend the rules whenever necessary for the general interest of the Connection; and all such rules shall become valid immediately after the sanction of that body. The General Conference is the supreme ruling or law-making body of The A.M.E. Zion Church while in session. Only the General Conference can change legislation once adopted by it in regular or special session.

 

1.  No committee, commission, Council, conference or board, including the Board of Bishops shall have the authority or right to exclude any amendments adopted by the General Conference from the Discipline of The A.M.E. Zion Church. (The Discipline, Para. 121, page 37 (2008)

 

13. Does the legislative process (Discipline, par, 130, 2004; par. 131, 2008) which is defined and outlined in the Legislative Flowchart (Discipline, p. 365, 2004; p. 337, 2008) continue to be the existing law of The A.M.E. Church?

 

            The General Conference has adopted a legislative process which is spelled out in Chapter 1, Paragraphs 130 and 13The Discipline in, and in the flowchart on page 337. This process is to remain in effect until such time that the General Conference deem it necessary to change.

 

BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, THIS 19th DAY OF July, 2012.

All Concurring

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