If amended, Article XV would make it easier to change bylaws
Article XV of the UUA bylaws, which outlines the procedure for changing other bylaws, is under review by the UUA Board of Trustees. A board working group expects to have a report on the status of Article XV, as well as a new draft of the article, on the 2010 General Assembly agenda.
Article XV came under scrutiny at the 2009 General Assembly when a new version of Article II—the UUA’s Principles and Purposes—was rejected by delegates. Delegates wanted to make changes to the proposed new Principles and Purposes but had to accept the document as it was written, or reject it in its entirety.
This procedure was dictated by Article XV, which stipulates that once a study and review commission has recommended changes to a UUA bylaw and the board has put the amended bylaw on the GA agenda, it cannot be further amended at GA. It has to be voted up or down by a simple majority of delegates the first year and a two-thirds majority the second year.
Frustrated by their inability to modify the document, GA delegates directed the Board of Trustees to reexamine Article XV so that they could make changes to the Principles and Purposes. A team consisting of UUA Board members Tom Loughrey, Lew Phinney, and the Rev. Susan Ritchie, along with UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody, and UUA Moderator Gini Courter was assembled and began work on the project.
The revision of Article XV is closely tied to the revision of Article II, the UUA’s Principles and Purposes.
The Principles and Purposes are of crucial importance to Unitarian Universalists as a summary of their beliefs. Their periodic review—at 15-year intervals—is mandated in the bylaws. The UUA Board charged the Commission on Appraisal in 2006 with conducting this review, a process that consisted of interviews and meetings with more than 1,000 UUs over a period of several years. The Commission released the updated version of the Principles and Purposes in December 2008, and it was approved by the board for inclusion on the 2009 GA agenda. Delegates ultimately rejected the new version because they couldn’t amend it.
Reviewing Article XV is a daunting task. It is chock full of legalese and dictates how and by whom proposed bylaw amendments may be submitted. Loughrey said that the basic question the group is wrestling with is “whether amendments (to bylaws like Article II) should be permitted during plenary (a GA business session) the first year. We’re asking ourselves if some of the requirements in Article XV are really necessary, or in the spirit of openness, should we change some of the restrictions involved?”
He acknowledged that the group is aware the there could be some hazard in opening up Article II to amendment by 2,000 delegates at GA. “We all want our bylaws to be clear and concise, but we have to ask ourselves if it’s possible to draft anything well in that large a group. In a plenary session it might be easy for our Principles to be re-crafted into something that won’t stand the test of time. There are good reasons for not making some bylaws easy to amend including one as important as our Principles.”
A case can be made, Loughrey said, that the Commission’s review of Article II was an adequate procedure that should not be changed, or changed only slightly. If UUs wanted to be heard, they had ample opportunity during the revision process. He said the group is considering whether congregants should have other ways of being heard and having their concerns addressed rather than opening up a debate at GA.
A lot is riding, Loughrey emphasized, on making the right decisions on Article XV and then Article II, the Principles and Purposes. “For a lot of people, what first attracted them to Unitarian Universalism was coming into a church for the first time and reading the Principles on the back of the order of service and realizing that, ‘Yes, that’s what I believe.’ That’s why it’s important to do this right.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.