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Griggs et al. v. Middaugh et al.
in a manner evidently in disregard of its plain organic law (its constitution)--to amend its constitution and change in essentials of doctrine its confession of faith. This court is of the opinion that amendments to the constitution and changes in the essentials of the faith should be made agreeably to the organic law. But the general rule is that the doctrinal decisions and judicial constructions (of church constitution and legislation under it) of the highest judicatory of a church are binding upon the civil courts, and the latter having no power to review or reverse them. Upon this point the following authorities are cited:
In the case of Watson v. Jones, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, and reported in 13 Wallace, 679 to 733, the court on page 727 of the opinion says: “In this class of cases we think the rule of action which should govern the civil courts, founded in a broad and sound view of the relations of church and state under our system of laws, and supported by a preponderating weight of judicial authority, is that whenever the questions of discipline, or of faith, or ecclesiastical rule, custom or law have been decided by the highest of these church judicatories to which the matter has been carried, the legal tribunal must accept such decision as final and as binding on them in their application to the case before them."
Farther along in the opinion the court says: "The right to organize voluntary religious association to assist in the expression and dissemination of any religious doctrine, and to create tribunals for the decision of controverted questions of faith within the association, and for the ecclesiastical government of all the individual members, congregations, and officers within the general association, is unquestioned. All who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this governmect, and are bound to submit to it. But it would be a vain consent and would lead to the total subversion of such religious bodies if anyone aggrieved by one of their decisions could appeal to the secular courts and have them reversed."
There is much more said in the opinion in that case that bears upon the determination of the questions in this case. The same rule is laid down by High on Injunctions (last edition). section 310, etc. ; 45 American, 419; 41 Pennsylvania State, 9; 45 Missouri, 183; 89 Indiana, 136. Harrison v. Hoyle, 24 Ohio St., 254; Gaff v. Greet, 88 Ind., 122; Potter on Corporations, vol. 2, 709, etc., 718, 720; Walker v. Wainwright, 16 Barb., 486 ; Robertson v. Bullions, 9 Barb., 64; German Ch. v. Seibert, 3 Pa. St., 282; Shannon v. Frost, 3 B. Mon., 253; Gibson v. Armstrong, 7 B. Mon., 481; Hale v. Everett, 53 N. H., 2; Terraria v. Vasconce, 23 Ill., 103; Harmon v. Dreher, 1 Speer Equity, 87; German Ref. Ch. v. Seibert, 3 Barr., 282; McGinnis v. Watson, 11 Pa. St., 1; Chase v. Cheney, 58 I11., 509.
"The civil courts act upon the theory that the ecclesiastical courts are the best judges of merely ecclesiastical questions and of all matters which concern the doctrines and discipline of the respective denominations to which they belong. * * *
* “Where a schism occurs in a ecclesiastical organization which leads to a separation into distinct and conflicting bodies, the respective claims of such bodies to the control of the property belonging to the organization must be determined bv. the ecclesiastical laws, usages, customs, principles, and practices which were accepted and adopted by the organi
zation before the division took place." The White Lick Quaker case, 69 Indiana, 136.
“The principle may now be regarded as too well established to admit of controversy, that in case of a religious congregation or ecclesiastical body, which is in itself but a subordinate member of some general church organization, having a supreme ecclesiastical judicatory over the entire membership of the organization, the civil tribunals must accept the decisions of such judicatory as final and conclusive upon all questions of faith, discipline, and ecclesiastical rule.” High on Injunctions, vol. 1, section 310, 374.
Judge Owens, in delivering the opinion of the Supreme Court of Ohio in the case of Mannix v. Purcell, 46 O. S., 102. “It has been held that where a religious body becomes divided, and the right to the property is in conflict, the civil courts will consider and determine which of the divisions submits to the church local and general. This division is entitled to the property. In determining which of the divisions has maintained the correct doctrine, the findings of the supreme ecclesiastical tribunal of the denomination in question are binding upon the civil courts." (See authorities cited by Judge Owens in that case.
Now, the Church of the United Brethren in Christ is a perfectly organized society. It has its congregations, its places of worship and its burial grounds, etc., (its property), its pastors, its bishops, its quarterly conferences, its apnual conferences, and its general conference of the church is its supreme legislative, executive, and judicial body. The church possesses the element or quality of unity and the power of perpetuity, and such a society can no more be affected by the withdrawal of a faction of its members than the universe can be destroyed by the disappearance or extinguishment of some of heaven's lesser luminaries. The general conference of the church is—to quote and adopt from the decision of Chief Justice Gibson in the great Presbyterian Church case - a homogeneous body, uniting in itself, without separation of parts, the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of the church government, and its acts are referable to one or the other of them, according to the capacity in which it sat when they were performed.” Commonwealth v. Green, 4 Wheat, 531.
All persons becoming members of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ not only accept its constitution and confession of faith as they are when they enter the church, but they either expressly or tacitly consent to such changes in either as this supreme authority of the church shall lawfully make.
Now, what of the general conferences of 1885 and 1889 of this church, and what of the action of each respecting the amended constitution and the revised confession of faith? It is admitted that these general conferences were lawfully constituted. No question is or has been made touching the validity of the election or credentials of the delegates respectively composing these general conferences. On the contrary, it is and has been conceded on all hands that the delegates to these conferences were regularly and lawfully chosen, certified and commissioned. It is also practically admitted that the delegates to the general conference of 1889 were elected with especial reference to the action taken by the general conference of 1885, and the action to be taken by the general conference of 1889 respecting the amended constitution and the revised confession of faith. The constitution of 1841 (in force up to 1889) expressly provided for its amendment; and it is granted in argument by
Griggs et al. v. Middaugh et al.
counsel for defendants that changes even in the essentials of the faith may be made after changing the constitution of the church so as to provide the mode or manner of altering the confession of faith. This court is of the opinion that the amendment of the constitution and the revision of the confession of faith (which were made) could lawfully be made at the same time. But it is contended that the constitution of 1841 provided that it might be amended only upon “the request of two thirds of the whole society," and that the amended constitution and the revised confession of faith were made and adopted without the required request of two-thirds of the whole society, indeed without any request of the society. Now it is true, either in law or in fact, that the constitution was amended and the confession of faith revised without the request of two-thirds of the whole society that the same be done? Is not the precise contrary true, that both were done regularly and lawfully upon the express request of two-thirds of the whole society? What was done by the general conference of 1885 toward the amendment of the constitution and the revision of the confession of faith? Why, the general conference of 1885 appointed a committee to formulate an amended constitution and a revised confession of faith, to be submitted to a vote of the entire membership of the church at an election to be held after full and due published notice thereof and of the nature of the proposed amendment and revision. Such proposed amended constitution and revised confession of faith, together with notice of such election, were fully and duly published, and such election was regularly and duly held. The clergy and the press of the church made diligent and urgent effort to secure a full vote of the entire membership of the church. All had opportunity to vote, and the election was in every way free and fair. The result of the election was: For the amended constitution and the revision of the confession of faith, 50,685 votes; against, 3,659, being 14 votes for to one vote against. Certainly the members who abstained from voting have no just cause to complain of this result.
What followed this election ? Were the proposed amended constitution and revised confession of faith at once declared adopted? Why no. They, with the vote thereon, were fully and duly reported to the General Conference of 1889, and the same were, by that body, with full freedom, duly considered, discussed, voted upon, adopted, and declared as the amended constitution and the revised confession of faith of the church, and, as ordered by that body, the same were published and proclaimed by the bishops of the church as its amended constitution and revised confession of faith. Their adoption, etc., was by a vote of 110, delegates for to the vote of twenty delegates against.
Now, here was a positive, express request to the general conference of 1889. Certainly no valid objection can be made to this convenient and proper form of request. But defendants complain that of the 208,000 members of the church only about 54,000 voted at the election, whereas the constitution of 1811 required the request of two-thirds of the "whole society” to authorize amendment of the constitution, etc.; and that, since 54,000 votes are not two-thirds of 208,000 votes, therefore, the request required by that constitution was not made. The trouble with the position of the defendants upon this point is that it is not well taken. The practical and lawsul construction of the provision in the constitution of 1841 for its amendment is that if the form of expressing such request is by a vote of the membership of the church at an election held for that purpose, "two-thirds of the whole society” means in law
two-thirds of all those voting at such election. To repeat: Largely more than two-thirds of all the members voting at the election voted intelligently and understandingly for the amended constitution and the revised confession of faith. This was in law the valid request of more than "two-thirds of the whole society." This is according to the legal and only practical rule in such cases. It is held by the courts that where an amendment to a state constitution is submitted to a vote of its electors for adoption, under a requirement that a majority of all the votes in the state must be for such amendment to affect its adoption, that such requirement is complied with if at such election a majority of all the electors voting, vote for such amendment. The same rule obtains respecting elections held in counties and in townships for the adoption of acts of the state legislature. See the following authorities: St. Joseph v. Rogers, 16 Wallace, 644 and 663–4, and authorities there cited; Wardens of Christ Ch. v. Pope, 8 Gray, 140–3; Richardson v. Society, 58 N. H., 188–9; State v. Swift, 69 Ind., 505; Green v. Weller, 32 Miss., 850; Prob. Anit. cases, 24 Kans., 700; Dayton v. St. Piul, 22 Minn., 400; Miller v. English, 21 N. J., 317; ad. Av. Ch. v. Bap. Ch. 2 Abb. Pr. (N. S.), 234; 95 U. S., 369; 1 Sneed (Tenn.), 690-692 ; 20 Ill., 159– 163 ; 20 Am Corp. cases, 93, 48 111., 262 ; 10 Minn., 87; 22 Miun., 53.
Said Judge McIlvaine in Harrison v. Hoyle, supra. "All members of the society are included, because, if not present, participating in the action of the meeting, their absence was voluntary, and hence there is no ground for complaint."
That the constitution was lawfully amended is, in view of the authorities, quite beyond controversy, and that the revised confession of faith was made and adopted in accordance with the organic law of the church seems to the court equally indisputable. In the judgment of the court the revision makes no changes in the essentials of the old confession of faith. The modifications made are not substantial or material, but are merely improvements in the form and style of expression. The substance of the faith remains the sanie. Certain articles were added to the old confession of faith, but these added articles only embody and express doctrinal matters, not set forth in the old confession of faith, of not only common but of universal belief in the church ever since its founddation. There is nothing whatever in any of these added articles that to any extent, clashes or conflicts with any doctrinal matter in the old confession of faith,
The records of the church, which are in evidence, show that up to the general conferences of 1885 and 1889, no constitution, or confession of faith, or rule of discipline, was ever submitted for adoption to a vote of the membership of the church. Prior to this general conference, all such matters were acted upon as within the absolute control of the general conference-all was formulated and adopted by that body alone. But the general conferences of 1885 and 1889, more clearly appreciating their high duties, and more regardiul of the rights and consciences of all the members of the church, lawfully and very properly prepared the way and provided the means of taking the sense and voice of the whole membership of the church upon the questions of amending its constitution and revising its confession of faith; and having lawlully taken the sense and voice of the membership upon these questions, the general conference of 1889 proceeded accordingly, and in a constitutional manner, to adopt and declare the amended constitution and the revised confession of faith, and the bishops of the church, as lawfully authorized,
Griggs et al. v. Middaugh et al.
published and proclaimed the same as such. In taking this action, the clause in the constitution of 1841, providing for its amendment, was construed by the general conferences of 1885 and 1889, as they, and each of them, had the lawful right to do; and their decision on that point being clearly within their powers and manifestly correct, is final, and binding upon the civil courts.
In all the acts and proceedings of these general conferences, respecting the formulation, submission, and adoption of the amended constitution and the revised confession of faith, they each proceeded and acted within their constitutional and lawful powers; and they having determined all questions concerning them, it is not within the province or power of a civil court to review or reverse their decisions.
Indeed this court feels called upon to say, in view of all the evidence and the law of the case, that this church has done its work in these matters in not only a lawful but christian manner, and with a degree of care, wisdom, and correctness commendable to the churches of the world.
The defendants with Bishop Wright and his other followers having withdrawn from the church, and their names having since been stricken from the rolls of membership thereof, they, the defendants, have no rightful claim to the property involved in this litigation, but the plaintiffs are entitled to the same for the uses of the church, and the decree of this court to that effect is accordingly entered in favor of the plaintiffs.
371 (Highland Common Pleas, 1889.)
ANONYMOUS. Where two or more persons are engaged in a criminal design, and while so engaged
one obtains from another money upon a false pretense, such false pretense relating to and being in pursuance of the criminal design in which such persons are together acting, such false pretense is not indictable under the law of Ohio making the obtainirg of anything of value by means of any false pretense a crime.
The grand jury, being in session in Highland county, came into court and asked instruction upon the following question :
" Where two or more persons are engaged in a criminal design, and while so engaged one obtains from another money upon a false pretense, such false pretense relating to and being in pursuance of the criminal design in which such persons are together acting, in such false pretense within the law of Ohio making the obtaining of anything of value by means of any false pretense a crime?”
In response to this question the following instruction was given by HUGGINS, J.: "Gentlemen of the Grand Jury :
The criminal law of Ohio is not for the protection of law-breakers in and about the concoction and carrying out of schemes to break the law. When men band together to prey on society by violation of the laws made to protect society, and while so engaged, and in carrying on and in pursuance of a criminal schieme prey upon one another, the law