A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Confidentiality

Any believer meeting with the Local Spiritual Assembly, while he may be entirely willing to share freely and frankly all his views, can certainly refuse to have his discussion with the Assembly recorded on tape. Obviously lying and backbiting among the friends are prohibited most categorically in the Faith, but when a friend is reporting to the Assembly on a matter of backbiting in the community, the act in itself is not backbiting. Indeed, the believer is doing his duty by reporting the matter to the Assembly. Sometimes when such a report is given to the Assembly, the person reporting may be bound by a promise of confidentiality not to reveal the identity of the original source of the information; in such a case the Assembly cannot require the believer to disclose the source.
(Universal House of Justice to a Local Spiritual Assembly, 9 October 1976)


Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member, solely by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it.
(Universal House of Justice, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)


Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it. Such matters, however, are but a small portion of the business of any Bahá’í institution. Most subjects dealt with are of common interest and can be discussed openly with anyone. Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy; on the other hand, every believer mist know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 334)


In answer to your fourth question the House of Justice instructs us to say that an element of judgement is required in deciding what are and what are not “administrative” matters. Immoral actions of believers, for example, generally become subjects for administrative action only when they are blatant or flagrant, and reflect on the good name of the Faith. If a believer turns to an assistant or Auxiliary Board member for advice on a personal matter it is for the assistant or Auxiliary Board member to decide whether he should advise the believer to turn to his Spiritual Assembly, whether he should himself give advice and, in either case, whether he should report the matter to the Counsellors, or to the Local Assembly, which, of course, would depend upon the degree of confidentiality he had undertaken to observe. Likewise, it is for the Counsellor to decide whether it is a matter of which the National Assembly should be informed. All this is, of course, within the general context that, apart from matters which ought to remain confidential, the more freely information is shared between the institutions of the Faith the better.
(The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 554-555)


In the light of the Master’s statement that the deliberations of Assemblies must be secret and confidential, it is not possible to have a non-Assembly member in the National Spiritual Assembly meeting. You must always remember that in matters of principle, there can be not deviation; ... Highly personal subjects, damaging to the honor and happiness of others, are often taken up by National Assemblies, and the danger that confidence will be betrayed is already great enough with the 9 chosen representatives of the whole community, let alone introducing non-Assembly members. You will just have to make your minutes a little more compact and sacrifice, if necessary, a certain amount of efficiency in order to follow this very important principle.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 45-46)


In the relationship between assistants and the National Spiritual Assembly no problems should arise, because the functions are entirely separate. An assistant is appointed by an Auxiliary Board member to help him in a specified area of the territory and he functions as an assistant only in relation to that area. Assistants, like Auxiliary Board members, function individually, not as a consultative body. Assistants who are members of a National Assembly or a national committee do not function as assistants in relation to that body, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member. An assistant can, of course, be a member of a Local Spiritual Assembly to function harmoniously and efficiently in the discharge of its duties and this will hardly succeed if he gives the Assembly the feeling that he is reporting privately everything it does to the Auxiliary Board member. He should, on the contrary, do all he can to foster an atmosphere of warm and loving collaboration between the Local Assembly and the Board member.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 333)


MEMBERS ASSEMBLY BOUND BY BAH┴‘═ LAW NOT TO DISCLOSE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION OBTAINED IN THE COURSE OF THE WORK OF THE ASSEMBLY UNLESS RELEASED BY INDIVIDUALS OR INSTITUTIONS PROVIDING IT.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1996 Aug 02, Confidentiality and Spiritual Assemblies, p. 2)


Members of Assemblies, whether they are assistants or not, are obviously in a position to receive confidential information as Individuals from several sources. It is an important principle of the Faith that one must not promise what one is not going to fulfill. Therefore, if a Bahá’í accepts confidential information either by virtue of his profession (e.g. as a doctor, a lawyer, etc.), or by permitting another person to confide in him he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 334)


National Assembly members themselves must exercise such discretion, and it should be clear to the believers that they are not justified in assuming that because a matter is known to individual members of the Assembly it is therefore before the Assembly itself. If a believer wishes to bring a matter to the Assembly’s attention he should do so explicitly and officially. If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to.
(The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 555)


Regarding the disclosure to believers of the names of friends who have reported their alleged wrongdoings to the Assembly, in principle those accused of wrongdoing have the right to know of what they are accused so that they may defend themselves. This information would naturally include all details supporting the accusation. Nonetheless, the Assembly must weight against that general principle care of the confidentiality of the person who may not wish to be identified as the source of the report This is a matter left to the discretion and wise judgement of the Assembly on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, if the trust of the believers who report such matters to an Assembly is violated, members of the community may soon become reluctant to inform the Assembly of wrongdoing.
(Universal House of Justice, to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 October 2000)


Regarding the extent to which confidential information about believers may be shared with other believers for their protection, and we offer in reply the following considerations:
1. Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member, solely by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it.
2. The assembly must itself carefully consider which information should rightly fall in the category of confidential information and which should not be shared with others, and which information may be divulged under special circumstances, and how such information may be divulged. Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, upon application, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed.
3. It must be remembered that individuals can reform, and a reprehensible past does not necessarily disqualify a believer from building a better future.
Within the general framework of these principles, we feel you should be able to handle each case as it may come to your attention. No hard and fast rule should be laid down in such cases, as each case required careful handling, sound judgment and utmost discretion.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 34-35)


Regarding the matter ... and the inharmony that seems to exist among certain of the friends ... When Bahá’ís permit the dark forces of the world to enter into their own relationships within the Faith they gravely jeopardize its progress; it is the paramount duty of the believers, the Local Assemblies, and particularly the N.S.A. to foster harmony, understanding and love amongst the friends. All should be ready and willing to set aside every personal sense of grievance—justified or unjustified—for the good of the Cause, because the people will never embrace it until they see in its Community life mirrored what is so conspicuously lacking in the world; love and unity.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 165-166)


Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, upon application, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed.
(Universal House of Justice, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)


The Assembly must itself carefully consider which information should rightly fall in the category of confidential information and which should not be shared with others, and which information may be divulged under special circumstances, and how such information may be divulged.
(Universal House of Justice, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)


The demands of the Cause transcend those of the individual, and should therefore be given precedence. But these two phases of Bahá’í social life, though not of equal importance, are by no means contradictory. Both of them are essential, and should be fostered, but each according to its own degree of importance. It is the responsibility of Bahá’í Assemblies to decide when individual interests should be subordinated to those affecting the collective welfare of the community. But, as already stated, the interest of the individual should always be safeguarded within certain limits, and provided they do not seriously affect the welfare of the group as a whole.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 121)


With regard to your question as to the advisability of disclosing to an individual believer the contents of the National Spiritual Assembly’s correspondence: The Guardian thinks that although this cannot be considered as constituting an obligation which a believer can impose upon the national body, yet it would seem highly advisable that the National Spiritual Assembly should give a sympathetic consideration to any such request made to it by a believer. This, he feels, would avoid giving the impression that the Assembly is working in an atmosphere of complete secrecy, and that it is motivated by dictatorial motives. The final decision in such matters, however, is entirely left to the discretion of the National Spiritual Assembly. The basic principle that should always be remembered is that the National Spiritual Assembly cannot be required to reveal to any outsider all the details concerning its work. It may choose to do so if it wishes, but nobody has the right to enforce upon it any such action. This is, of course, the purely legal side of the question. But a purely legalistic attitude in matters affecting the Cause, particularly now that the Faith is still in a state of infancy, is not only inadequate but fraught with unforeseen dangers and difficulties. The individuals and Assemblies must learn to co-operate and to co-operate intelligently, if they desire to adequately discharge their duties and obligations towards the Faith. And no such co-operation is possible without mutual confidence and trust.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 91-92)