Administrative Rights - Loss of

A person whose administrative rights of membership in the Bahá’í community have been removed is a Bahá’í at heart if he still recognizes Bahá’u’lláh and believes in His Revelation. Since his spiritual commitment is not in question, his continuing Bahá’í life can include worship of God through the prayers of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and observance of the Fast, of the Bahá’í Holy Days, and of all the personal and family occasions of the Faith. He has access to the literature of the Faith and, unless specified otherwise by the National Spiritual Assembly, may attend proclamation meetings and Bahá’í school sessions that are open to the public. He may subscribe to Brilliant Star and World Order Magazine and other general publications, but he cannot receive The American Bahá’í. He cannot have a Bahá’í marriage or go on pilgrimage.

Shoghi Effendi, in Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 88

As regards the question about a person who is mentally ill attending the Feasts, anybody who is well enough mentally to attend a Bahá’í Feast and understand what it is all about is certainly well enough to be a voting member. Only people who are very seriously deranged mentally and confined to institutions or under constant supervision should be deprived of their voting rights.

Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 241

Concerning your question as to the status of those individual whom the Local Assembly or the National Spiritual Assembly have considered it necessary to deprive of the voting right and to suspend from local meetings and gatherings; such action which Local and National Assemblies have been empowered to take against such recalcitrant members, however justified and not matter how severe, should under no circumstances be considered as implying the complete expulsion of the individuals affected from the Cause. The suspension of voting and other administrative rights of an individual believer, always conditional and therefore temporary, can never have such far-reaching implications, since it constitutes merely and administrative sanction; whereas his expulsion or ex- communication from the Faith, which can be effected by the Guardian[1] alone in his capacity as the supreme spiritual head of the Community, has far-reaching spiritual implications affecting the very soul of that believer.

The former as already stated, is an administrative sanction, whereas the latter is essentially spiritual, involving not only the particular administrative relationship of a believer to his Local or National Assembly, but his very spiritual existence in the Cause. It follows, therefore, that a believer can continue calling himself a Bahá’í even though he may cause to be a voting member of the community. But in case he is excluded from the body of the Cause by an act of the Guardian he ceases to become a believer and cannot possibly identify himself even nominally with the Faith.

[1 The function of expulsion or ex-communication from the Faith is now effected by the Universal House of Justice supreme "as spiritual head of the community."]

Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56

On the other hand when any person is expelled, the Assembly should not act hurriedly. There is a great spiritual responsibility attached to the act. The Assembles do not have only rights against the individuals, they have great duties also. They should act like the good Shepherd whom Christ mentions in His well-known parable. We also have the example of the Master before us. The individual Bahá’ís were organic parts of His spiritual being. What befell the least one of the friends brought deep affliction and sorrow to Him also. If by chance one of them erred He counseled him and increased His love and affection for him. Only after months of constant attention, if the Master saw that that friend was still stubbornly refusing to reform his ways, and that his being among the other Bahá’ís endangered the spiritual life of the rest, then He would expel him from the group. This should be the attitude of the Assemblies towards the individuals. the best criterion whereby you can measure the spiritual attainment of an Assembly, is the extent its members feel themselves responsible for the welfare of the group. And perchance they feel forced to deprive a person from his vote it should be only to safeguard the rest and not merely to inflict punishment.

Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 60-61

Regarding persons whose condition has not been defined by the civil authorities after medical diagnosis, the Assembly on the spot must investigate every case that arises and, after consultation with experts, deliver its verdict. Such a verdict, however, should, in important cases, be preceded by consultation with the NSA. No doubt, the power of prayer is very great, yet consultation with experts is enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh. Should these experts believe that an abnormal case exists, the withholding of voting rights is justified.

Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54

Regarding the interpretation of mental unfitness, this is not the same as being physically incapacitated. By the latter is meant a condition much more serious than any temperamental deficiency or disinclination to conform to the principle of majority rule. Only in rare cases when a person is actually unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so, should the right of membership be denied him. The greatest care and restraint should be exercised in this matter.

Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, May 15, 1940: Bahá’í Procedure, p. 20

The Beloved Guardian has directed me to write you concerning information which he has just received of your having indicated your application for permanent residence in ..., that you were Protestants -- and you did not indicate in any way that you were Bahá’ís. The Guardian has instructed me to inform you that he is shocked and surprised to receive this news, and this action meets with his disapproval. He said that if advance information has been given that such action must not be taken under any circumstances; then there would be only one thing he could and that would be removal of voting rights. Certainly such action in the future would result in immediate removal of voting rights. In Persia, even during the period of persecution, when life was in danger, and complete freedom offered to those who indicated they were Muslims and not Bahá’ís, the Guardian not only deprived anyone who did not openly declare his Faith of his voting rights, but even indicated they were Covenant breakers. Thus you will see that it is completely inconsistent for a Bahá’í under any circumstances whatsoever, to indicate they are anything but a Bahá’í, regardless of what the result may be.

Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 61

A Bahá’í who has lost his administrative rights is administratively expelled from the community and therefore is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Spiritual Assembly in the matter of laws of personal status, such as divorce, unless, of course, he is involved in such a matter though having a Bahá’í spouse in good standing from whom the divorce is taking place. His observance of such laws is a matter of conscience and how would into be subject to further sanctions for non-observance of Bahá’í laws during the periods he is without voting rights.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58

Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied: He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days. He may attend any Bahá’í function open to non-Bahá’ís. He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá’ís. He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh to teach. Association with other believers is not forbidden. He may have the Bahá’í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá’í cemetery. Bahá’í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost he voting rights. Bahá’í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform. He should have access to the spiritual Assembly.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 61-62

As regard the admittance of new members into the different groups as declared Bahá’ís, and the expulsion of any from the Community; Shoghi Effendi believes that the Assembles should not act hurriedly. They should be wise and most considerate otherwise they can do much harm to the body of the Cause. They should see to it that the new-comer is truly conversant with the teachings, and when he expresses his believe in the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, knows what he is saying and what are the duties he undertakes.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60

For the present only the National Assembly may deprive a believer of his administrative rights and this authority should not be given to Local Spiritual Assemblies.

Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Honduras, April 18, 1971

In discharging their educational responsibilities towards the body of the believers, the institutions of the Faith need to bear in mind how little is accomplished when their efforts are reduced to repeated admonitions or to dogmatic instruction in proper conduct. Rather should their aim be to raise consciousness and to increase understanding. Theirs is not the duty to pry into personal lives or to impose Bahá’í law on the individual but to create an environment in which the friends eagerly arise to fulfil their obligations as followers of Bahá’u’lláh, to uphold His law, and to align their lives with His teachings.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

In letters written on behalf of the Guardian advising Assemblies on such matters, he explained that, “although it is sometimes necessary to take away the voting rights of a believer for purposes of discipline,” this prerogative of the National Assembly “should be used only in extreme cases.” If heavy sanctions are applied to certain acts of immorality, he also observed, “it is only fair to impose equally heavy sanctions on any Bahá’ís who step beyond the moral limits defined by Bahá’u’lláh,” which would obviously, given the circumstances of humanity today, “create an impossible and ridiculous situation.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

In some cases, partial sanctions may be adequate, allowing the Assembly to deal with a situation in a flexible manner. For example, if the hope is to reawaken in the individual a desire to participate in community life, full sanctions may be counterproductive; an appropriate partial sanction, such as suspending his or her right to be elected to an Assembly, may prove sufficient, for, in any event, it would not be reasonable for a person who flagrantly violates Bahá’í law to be in a position to govern the affairs of the community. Restricting the believer from other forms of service—for instance, acting as a tutor of a study circle or as a children’s class teacher—may also be considered. Full removal of administrative rights should be reserved for the most severe and intractable cases, especially when the protection of the community becomes a concern. The wise use of partial sanctions thus provides the Assembly with another means of strengthening the individual and the community.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

Intervention in any specific case needs, of course, to be carried out with the utmost delicacy and wisdom. Such cases present themselves when the breach of Bahá’í law is public and flagrant, potentially bringing the Faith into disrepute and damaging its good name, or when the individual demonstrates a callous disregard for the teachings and the institutions of the Faith, with harmful consequences for the functioning of the Bahá’í community. In these circumstances, Spiritual Assemblies should follow a middle way: They should not adopt a passive approach, which would be tantamount to condoning behaviour contrary to the teachings and which would undermine the imperative to obey Bahá’í law in the eyes of the members of the community. Neither, however, should they act rashly or rigidly to enforce the law, imposing administrative sanctions arbitrarily.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

It is also quite permissible for a National Spiritual Assembly to debar an individual believer from serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly without removing his or her voting rights and they may also debar a believer from attending the consultative part of a Nineteen Day Feast. You may also debar a believer from voting in elections without imposing all the other administrative sanctions involved in administrative expulsion.

Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Panama, January 31, 1972

One who has lost his voting rights is considered to be a Bahá’í but not one in good standing. The following restrictions and limitations apply to such a believer:

* He cannot attend Nineteen Day Feasts or other meetings for Bahá’ís only, including International Conferences, and therefore cannot take part in consultation on the affairs of the community.

* He cannot contribute to the Bahá’í Fund.

* He cannot receive newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Bahá’ís.

* He cannot have a Bahá’í marriage ceremony and therefore is not able to marry a Bahá’í.

* He may not have a Bahá’í pilgrimage.

* Although he is free to teach the Faith on his own behalf, he should not be used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Bahá’ís.

* He is debarred from participation in administrative matters, including the right to vote in Bahá’í elections.

* He cannot hold office or be appointed to a committee.

* He should not be given credentials (which imply that he is a Bahá’í in good standing).

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 61-62

Only in circumstances where a believer, ignoring all admonishments, persists in misconduct and knowingly and consistently violates the law, would it be necessary for the Assembly to consider applying administrative sanctions—this, after warning the individual of the consequences of his or her continued disregard for the teachings. The decision in such matters is left to the National Spiritual Assembly, which is to proceed with the utmost care and circumspection.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

Should the conduct of a believer become so blatant as to attract the attention of the Assembly, it would want, after gaining a relatively clear picture of the issues, to offer loving but firm advice to the friend involved. In most cases it is necessary, in the first instance, to determine to what extent the believer understands the Faith and its standards. Dispassionate counselling, not infrequently over an extended period, to assist the individual concerned in gaining an appreciation of the requirements of Bahá’í law is generally required. So, too, is patience needed, and he or she should be given sufficient time to bring about a change. The Assembly, often aided by the Counsellors or the members of the Auxiliary Boards, may have to help the individual reflect on his or her particular circumstances, apply relevant principles, and explore available options. In deciding on what approach to take, the Assembly should be guided by the understanding that its objective is to assist the friends to draw closer to the Faith while taking care to protect the Bahá’í community from the negative influence of those who have no intention of adhering to its standards. When a believer demonstrates an allegiance to the Cause and a willingness to rectify the situation, continued patience and loving guidance are in order.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

The degree to which a community should be active or passive towards a believer who is deprived of his voting rights depends upon the circumstances in each individual case. Obviously, it is desirable that such a person should come to see the error of his ways and rectify his condition. In some cases friendly approaches by the Bahá’ís may help to attain this; in other cases the individual may react more favorably if left to his own devices for a time.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60

The withdrawal of administrative rights from a person who is suffering from a mental illness is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer's condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights. From this you will see that the mental incapacity must be very serious for this step to be taken, and would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital. Again, depending upon the kind of mental illness, such suspension of voting rights may or may not involve non-receipt of Bahá’í newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, no. 195

There may be times when an individual who shows complete indifference to the counsels of the institutions and firm resolution in his or her desire to maintain the status quo has no apparent interest in engaging in the life of the Bahá’í community. In such a case, provided that his or her conduct has no significant bearing on the good name of the Faith, the Assembly may decide to leave the individual to go his or her own way, neither insisting on continued contact nor feeling obliged to impose sanctions. Equally, however, the Assembly need not be anxious about quickly removing the name of the individual from its rolls, given that circumstances change and a person may, over time, decide to mend his or her ways and return to participate in the life of the community.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

We feel that each and every case should be reviewed on its own merits. In some cases it is clear that there is no alternative to the removal of voting rights as in the case of marriage without the consent of parents. In other cases, such as those involving flagrant immorality, the removal of voting rights should be resorted to only in rare cases. If the acts of immorality are not generally known and are discoverable only on investigation, a serious question is raised as to whether this immorality is 'flagrant'.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60

We realize that a great problem is presented by gossip when it occurs in Bahá’í communities, and the poison it can instill into the relationship between the friends. However, deprivation of voting rights is usually of little help in such circumstances and should be resorted to only after other remedies have been tried and failed.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60

We think it would be much better for the National Assembly to provide for the proper deepening of the friends and in a loving and patient manner attempt to instill in them a respect for Bahá’í laws. Rash action can dampen the zeal of the community, and this must be avoided at all costs.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60

What is at stake is the participation of the individual in those aspects of community life internal to the body of the followers of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, not his or her civil rights.

Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013

With reference to the question in your second letter as to what disciplinary action can be take against youth who are not of voting age, it must be remembered that the removal of his voting rights is administrative expulsion. In addition to being deprived of is right to vote, the believer cannot attend Feasts or other meetings for Bahá’ís only; cannot contribute to the Fund; or, cannot have a Bahá’í marriage ceremony. The restrictions against voting would become operative when the young offender reaches voting age.

Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59