29 January 2006

Fixing Unitarian Universalism -- Implementation Tips, Part I (Bylaws)

Instead of commenting on the relative merits of the various proposals on Chalicechick's blog about reforming the UUA, I'm going to look at how we would go about implementing the various suggestions. This is a hypothetical exercise to explore how one would make changes within Unitarian Universalism and the UUA.

Based on what we know about how we do business in the UUA at the various levels (congregational, district, denominational), the following reforms would probably require UUA bylaws amendments in order to happen:
First, it's worth looking at the current UUA bylaws in Article XV -- the section that deals with amending the bylaws. The rules here will give one a sense of what is possible and how long it will take to implement a particular reform.

Bylaws can only be amended by a 2/3 vote of General Assembly delegates only if the proposed amendment is placed on the Agenda. However, there are two special exceptions to this 2/3 vote requirement ("C bylaws" and "C bylaws" in Article II) that will be discussed later.

Any proposed amendments to the bylaws can only be submitted by the following parties:
  1. The UUA Board of Trustees.
  2. The General Assembly Planning Committee.
  3. The Commission on Appraisal.
  4. Not less than fifteen certified member congregations by action of their governing boards or their congregations.
  5. A district by official action at a duly called district meeting at which a quorum is present.
So ... any proposed changes must go through one of these five "gatekeeper" bodies to be on the General Assembly agenda. And there's a timetable that congregations and districts must comply with (1 February submission of proposed change to the General Assembly Planning Committee for the typical June General Assembly). Getting a proposed amendment on the General Assembly agenda doesn't gurantee its approval. It's just the first step in this process.

This is how one starts the process to change a regular bylaw. However, there are certain bylaw sections where the section number is preceded by the letter "C." These are referred to as "C bylaws" and the process for changing them is slightly different.

For changing any "C bylaws" other than Article II "C bylaws," the process takes longer than it does for regular bylaw changes. It's also more complex, involving a two-step process. Amending, repealing, or adding a new "C bylaw" first requires getting the proposed amendment on the General Assembly agenda and must receive preliminary approval by a simple majority vote. Following this preliminary approval, the proposed "C bylaws" change will be on the next year's General Assembly agenda where it will then require a 2/3 vote for the final approval.

Article II "C bylaws" are a special case. Article II in the bylaws contains our Principles and Purposes, a denominational non-discrimination statement, and a freedom of belief clause that prohibits member congregations from imposing creedal tests. All four sections of Article II are "C bylaws."

Any attempt to amend, repeal, or add a new "C bylaws" in Article II first must be added to a regular General Assembly agenda. At this General Assembly, a simple majority vote means that the proposed change is referred to a commission appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees for review and study. This review must involve member congregations.

This study commission can take no longer than 3 years.

After the study commission has completed their work, they shall submit to the General Assembly Planning Committee for inclusion on the next General Assembly's agenda. This version of the proposal shall include the original amendment and any amendments to the proposed amendment recommended by the study commission.

However, this study commission process can be bypassed through a motion to dispense with the study and review process. This motion will require a 4/5 vote for passage.

All Article II "C bylaws" amendments must receive a 2/3 vote by the General Assembly delegates for final approval.

If the proposed Article II "C bylaws" change does not receive approval at this second General Assembly vote, this proposal (and anything that is substantially similar) cannot be placed on the General Assembly agenda for two years.

If no review of Article II has occurred for a period of 15 years, the UUA board will appoint a commission to review and study Article II. This commission will review Article II and will submit any appropriate revisions to the UUA Board. The UUA Board will review the proposed revisions and they may pass these recommendations to the General Assembly Planning Committee for inclusion on next year's General Assembly agenda. These proposals must go through a two-step approval process. Preliminary approval requires a simple majority vote at the first General Assembly and 2/3 vote at the second General Assembly.

Reform through bylaws amendments isn't for the faint-hearted.

It will require grass-roots networking, detailed preparation, and much patience. In an earlier blog post ["How To Implement UUA Reforms (Process Suggestion)"], I suggested that any proposed reforms that didn't involve bylaws changes would be easier to implement.

The proposed reforms that do not involve bylaws changes will be discussed in "Fixing Unitarian Universalism -- Implementation Tips, Part II."

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