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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rev. Joe: ULC Church Reprise

The ULC has no traditional doctrine. We, the organization, only believe in that which is RIGHT. Each individual has the privilege and the responsibility to determine what is RIGHT for him as long as it does not infringe on the RIGHTS of others.
A federal appellate ruling out of the 7CA a couple years ago referenced the ULC Church is an opinion holding that if you allow a minister to solemnize a marriage, you constitutionally must also allow a humanist officiant to do so.  As I have noted in the past, reading NYT wedding announcements will lead one to consistently notice the usage of ULC officiants. And, contra the comment in the opinion, the church does not "sell" ordinations though it has various products for a fee. You can get ordained for free.
A clergyman or minister of any religion, or by the senior leader, or any of the other leaders, of The Society for Ethical Culture in the city of New York, having its principal office in the borough of Manhattan, or by the leader of The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, having its principal office in the borough of Brooklyn of the city of New York, or of the Westchester Ethical Society, having its principal office in Westchester county, or of the Ethical Culture Society of Long Island, having its principal office in Nassau county, or of the Riverdale-Yonkers Ethical Society having its principal office in Bronx county, or by the leader of any other Ethical Culture Society affiliated with the American Ethical Union.
This is from the NYC city's clerk office and NYC does accept ULC Church credentials to register as a wedding officiant. I myself obtained this a few years back.  As covered in the past, a handful of lower court rulings in NY read "clergyman or minister" more narrowly.  I would note that singling out certain ethical culture societies like this does appear problematic.  Looking at the state domestic legislation in more detail provides this caveat:
provided that no clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader shall be required to solemnize any marriage when acting in his or her capacity under this subdivision.
So, don't worry, you won't be forced to solemnize same sex weddings or those that involve someone divorced.  Anyway, the original provision sounds open-ended, but moving down on the state page, you see this:
The term “clergyman” or “minister” when used in this article, shall include those defined in section two of the religious corporations.
Such is the wrinkle and a court covering 3/5 of NYC held that it did not apply to ULC Church.  Years later, a different mid-level appeals court held differently.  I am not aware of any judgment in the other two, including the one that covers the other 2/5 (Bronx and Manhattan) of NYC. As noted in this recent article, having a non-traditional officiant, including a friend and loved one, is quite popular these days. And, I think it is a basic liberty with general First Amendment overtones to have a broad right to choose here. The ULC Church has been subject to various litigation over the years,including competing decisions nation-wide on if they are "churchy" enough to count for this purpose.  Only a handful of cases arose in NY, but it would be useful to settle this thing.

The ULC Church or some analogue at times seems like something of a joke. The first link discusses how I would argue that it is a specific religion with certain basic doctrines. Basically, it rests on individual conscience though is not an "anything goes" sort of thing. Hurting others would not seem to be appropriate. You don't necessarily have to join a specific religion to be guided by such principles and many for instance believe in God or Jesus Christ without belonging to a specific denomination. Does this make them any less a believer?  Joining a specific group has value to people though, including a sort of messaging function.

The ULC Church started years ago and the presidency passed to the wife and then son of the founder.  Looking at one link, "what's new" referenced 2005 though found a NPR piece five years later. Amy Long, ULC Seminary President used to have periodic YouTube videos where she talked about various topics.  But, the last one I see is from a year ago.  There is a "ULC" website with up to date content (see, e.g., an April 2016 blog) but is it the "official" one connected to the founder's church?  Well, bluntly, who cares really?  It seems to violate the spirit of universalism to worry too much about the "right" church here.  The whole point here is individual conscience, not worrying about the credentials of some specific minister or branch.  The whole thing is a bit convoluted.

Who is who here seems important largely to see who would get the profits for various wedding materials and other stuff you can buy.  The purity of whomever is running "ULC" when ministers become so by submitting their names is of limited importance. There is of course some basic concern about who is involved and if they are miscreants, they shouldn't be supported.  But, when someone wants to get married by a "ULC" minister, all of that doesn't really matter.  They are basically saying that they want to solemnize the occasion by means of an ordinary person who expresses individual moral beliefs.  "ULC" is a sort of shorthand means to do this, familiar since so many did so in the past.  That's fine.

The main concern, I guess, is like when being a member of the "press" gives someone certain special privileges.  So, New York and certain other states allowed "ministers" to solemnize weddings, but wanted that to have a bit of cachet, so to speak.  But, as I noted in the past, trying to draw a line there among certain religions has 1A problems, including establishment concerns about choosing those with a certain type of clergy.  If you want officiants to have a bit of knowledge about marriage law or take some sort of oath or affirmation, fine. If a small group of people think such and such a person is blessed by God is not exactly saying much about their bona fides though.  Some sort of minimum membership seems off too.  Is truth a matter of numbers?  Best to allow marriages to be "exercised" broadly.

The same basic thing would be true regarding other acts of "ministers" here including let's say have a ULC minister serve as counselor in prison or at a hospital.  Money used merely for such duties should also be tax exempt.  OTOH, some open-ended thing like saying your bakery business is in honor of God or something should not be enough.  Any exemption that is appropriate can be done via some sort of "conscience" rule and ULC Church ministers should count as much as anything else.  So, that shouldn't be an issue. Again, I think "ULC" just amounts to a shorthand that can be present without going through some online exercise and getting paperwork from some third party.  But, whatever works for you.

I don't go around telling people I'm "Rev. Joe" of the Universal Life Church or anything. I was raised as a Roman Catholic though my mom eventually was turned off by them and chose another Christian church. I respect Catholicism on certain matters but find their beliefs on a range of things not only absurd but at times simply harmful.  Many Catholics go their own way on such issues (including abortion), relying on their own conscience. They can still call themselves "Catholic" though such cafeteria personal choice decision-making sounds pretty Protestant to me.

Seems kinda ULC-like. Oh well. Choose the path the works for you, just try to be good and make the world a little better for you being there. That's not always that easy, believe me.

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