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Overview

The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws of the Faith is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies:

The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws of the Faith is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies in the investigation of alleged behavioral delinquencies. This difference arises from the spiritual nature of the Assembly’s deliberations, the importance of a prayerful attitude, the due weight given to the preservation of the unity and integrity of the Bahá’í community, and the distinctive character of Bahá’í law as a means for individual spiritual development.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Removal of rights is a serious sanction, which isn’t undertaken lightly.  There is a process which includes:

  • they should be consulted with
  • lovingly admonished
  • given repeated warnings
  • be deprived of their voting rights

Before anyone is deprived of their voting rights, they should be consulted with and lovingly admonished at first, given repeated warnings if they do not mend their immoral ways, or whatever other extremely serious misdemeanor they are committing, and finally, after these repeated warnings, be deprived of their voting rights.  (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 51)

Circumstances may arise where the offence is so serious that immediate action is required by the National Assembly to protect the Faith.

Circumstances may arise where the offence is so serious that immediate action is required by the National Assembly to protect the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

The general basis for the deprivation of voting rights is gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status:

The general basis for the deprivation of voting rights is of course gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status; and even then it is the duty of the National Assembly, before exercising this sanction, to confer with the individuals involved in a loving manner to help them overcome the problem; second, to warn them that they must desist; third, to issue further warnings if the original warnings are not followed; and finally, if there seems no other way to handle the matter, then a person may be deprived of voting rights. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, pp.50-51)

This deprivation remains in force until the believer repents:

This deprivation remains in force until such time as the believer repents of his actions and is able to satisfy the Spiritual Assembly that he has rectified his behaviour.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p.363)

Reasons a Person Could Lose their Administrative Rights

Disgraceful Conduct Injuring the Faith

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: disgraceful conduct, flagrantly contrary to our Teachings . . . conduct which is disgracing the Cause  . . .  seriously injuring the Faith in the eyes of the public through his conduct . . .   (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Disregard For and Flagrantly Breaking The Laws Of God

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . disregard for the laws of personal status . . .   flagrantly breaking the laws of God . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

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. 59)

Criminal Offenses

Turning now to your questions: you have enquired about believers convicted of an offence in the civil courts. As you know the Bahá’í institutions do not have a responsibility to enforce the criminal laws of a nation, although they do quite properly exhort the believers to obedience to government, which includes obedience to its laws. Violations of criminal law are handled by the civil courts of a country and enforced by its civil administration. The fact that a believer has been charged with a criminal offence, or is suspected of having committed such an offence, or is convicted by the court, should not automatically result in the application of Bahá’í sanctions. Each case is to be considered on its own merits, and in the light of the aforementioned considerations pertaining to the effect on the Bahá’í community and its reputation. For example, an Assembly would be most unlikely to consider imposition of sanctions on a Bahá’í convicted of violating the laws regulating automobile traffic flow, but it might well consider that a person known to be a Bahá’í convicted of selling narcotic drugs had brought disgrace to the name of the Faith and damaged its reputation before the public.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

We have carefully reviewed your letter of April 18, 1967 inquiring about the attitude to be adopted by your National Assembly regarding believers who have been charged with criminal offences, suspected to have committed such offences, or convicted by the court. The principle to bear in mind is that each case falling in any of the aforementioned categories should be considered separately and on its own merits. No hard and fast rule should be applied. If the believer’s actions conspicuously disgrace the Faith and such actions seriously injure its reputation, the National Assembly may in its discretion apply the sanction of deprivation of voting rights.  We feel that the Assembly should exercise its utmost wisdom when depriving believers of their administrative privileges, each case should be considered on its individual merits, and it should be realized that the application of Bahá’í sanctions is not an automatic action in response to a verdict of the court.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

When an Assembly is aware that a believer is charged with a criminal offence, normally it should not pass judgment on the matter until a decision has been given in the courts, at which time it would consider whether it should impose administrative sanctions. There may be cases, however, when an Assembly is justified in taking certain actions to protect the interests of the Cause. Generally, the Assembly would regard the decision of the court as being valid in determining whether or not the Bahá’í was guilty of the stated offence, and would not undertake its own independent investigation. However, there may be special circumstances associated with a particular case, or with the reputation of the civil judicial system, which would incline an Assembly to decide that the verdict of the court should not be accepted as a basis for Bahá’í administrative action without further investigation by the Assembly; it is left to the Assembly to make that determination.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Political And Ecclesiastical Activities

The same sanction (deprivation of voting right) should apply to those who persistently refuse to dissociate themselves from political and ecclesiastical activities. This is a general principle which is being maintained throughout the Bahá’í world, and the believers throughout the East are already aware of the absolute necessity of refusing any political or Moslem ecclesiastical office.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Your understanding and attitude regarding participation in politics is correct, namely, you immediately warn and quickly remove the voting rights, as such prompt action is necessary to protect the interests of the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Membership In Masonic, Theosophical, Rosicrucian, And Similar Secret Societies

The following two principles should help to guide your Assembly in dealing with the problems of Bahá’í membership in Masonic, Theosophical, Rosicrucian, and similar societies:

(1) Formal affiliation with and acceptance of membership in organizations whose programs or policies are not wholly reconcilable with the Teachings is not permissible to the friends.

(2) The friends should not become members of secret societies.

Your Assembly is advised to carefully inform the friends of these principles and to deepen them in their understanding and appreciation of them. Having made certain that all friends, especially those directly concerned, have been so deepened, your Assembly should then set a time limit by which the friends must obey your directive to withdraw their membership in the organizations. Each case will have to be considered on its own merits. Some of the friends may have to fulfill certain commitments as officers before they can withdraw with honor. The time limit should make allowance in such cases.

Whereas persistence in membership in these and in similar organizations is ample ground for deprivation of voting rights, your Assembly is advised to give sufficient time for each of the friends to be thoroughly deepened, and to comply with the principles before any disciplinary action is taken.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Immorality

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . gross immorality . . . acts of such an immoral character as to damage the good name of the Faith . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

In other cases, such as those involving flagrant immorality, the removal of voting rights should be resorted to only in rare cases.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)

Any blatant acts of immorality on the part of the Bahá’ís should be strongly censured; the friends should be urged to abandon such relationships immediately, straighten out their affairs, and conduct themselves as Bahá’ís; if they refuse to do this, in spite of the warnings of the Assembly, they should be punished through being deprived of their voting rights. The N.S.A. is empowered to settle such cases of flagrant immorality without referring them to the Guardian.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

The National Spiritual Assembly should distinguish between its functions as an adviser and counsellor of the friends and its role as the enforcer of Bahá’í Laws. For example, it is quite in order for the Assembly to advise a believer to consult a psychiatrist or any other doctor, if it feels this is necessary, but such advice should not be linked with any deprivation of voting rights which may have to be imposed for flagrant immorality. You may feel it advisable to give such advice to a person who is being deprived of his voting rights, but the two actions should be clearly separate–one is administrative, the other is advice given for the person’s own good which he may or may not accept as he wishes.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Generally, administrative rights should not be suspended because of the birth of a child out of wedlock. The questions to be considered are whether the party is guilty of blatant and flagrant immorality, whether such conduct is harming the Faith, and whether the believer has refused or neglected to improve her conduct despite repeated warnings.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58)

Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual—although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Bahá’í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Regarding those whose conduct is immoral, the matter should first be referred to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Whether the believer is a member of the Local Assembly or not, he should be first lovingly exhorted, then warned and required to rectify his conduct. If the conduct of the believer does no improve and continues to be a disgrace to the Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly, may decide merely to remove him from the membership of the Local Assembly, if he is a member of it, or to apply the full sanction of depriving him of his voting rights, depending upon the circumstances in each case. It is impossible and unwise to lay down a general ruling to cover all circumstances.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

In case of immoral conduct one offence is generally not enough to incur this heavy penalty, but only after patient counselling and in the face of flagrantly immoral conduct or blatant misbehavior should it be invoked.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

Regarding those whose conduct is immoral, the matter should first be referred to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Whether the believer is a member of the Local Assembly or not, he should be first lovingly exhorted, then warned and required to rectify his conduct. If the conduct of the believer does not improve and continues to be a disgrace to the Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly may decide merely to remove him from the membership of the Local Assembly, if he is a member of it, or to apply the full sanction of depriving him of his voting rights, depending upon the circumstances in each case. It is impossible and unwise to lay down a general ruling to cover all circumstances.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

In case of immoral conduct one offence is generally not enough to incur this heavy penalty, but only after patient counselling and in the face of flagrantly immoral conduct or blatant misbehaviour should it be invoked.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

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)

Marriage without Consent of Parents

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . breaking of laws, such as the consent of parents to marriage . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

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

Non-Baha’i or Civil Marriage

In connection with your question regarding the case of Mr. Mrs.… and their daughter, the Guardian considers that your Assembly did quite right to deprive all three of their voting rights. Their conduct in carrying out a Moslem marriage in the circumstances set forth by you in your letter, and contrary to Bahá’í law, are most reprehensible, to say the least, and if such actions are not strongly censured by the Bahá’ís, other friends may be encouraged in moments of weakness, to err.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Bahá’ís who go to the church and are married as Christians must also of necessity be deprived of their voting rights.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

… if a Bahá’í has a civil marriage ceremony only, he is subject to loss of his voting rights. If the Assembly is satisfied that such a couple is repentant, their voting rights may be restored on condition that they have the Bahá’í ceremony.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

In cases involving only the civil ceremony, voting rights may be restored if the Assembly feels that the believer is truly repentant and wishes to comply with the Bahá’í law previously broken. The civil marriage ceremony itself is not contrary to Bahá’í law, and therefore the dissolution of the civil marriage is not a pre- requisite to restoration of voting rights. In such cases the Bahá’í marriage ceremony may take place if the parents now give their consent to the marriage and the Assembly is satisfied that the consent has been genuinely and freely given and is not conditioned by the fact that the parties have already had a civil ceremony on the condition that it be performed.  Should … apply for restoration of his voting rights, and should your Assembly feel that he is truly repentant, you should offer assistance in arranging the other details including helping him to obtain the consent of parents.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58-59)

Marrying Within the Year Of Patience

…no sanctions should be imposed merely because the believer has commenced a civil action for divorce before the expiration of the year of patience. However, the believer will be subject to sanctions if he should marry a third party within the year of patience, not only because it is a violation of the year of patience itself, but also because even though a civil divorce has been granted, the Bahá’í divorce cannot be granted until the end of the year of patience. For this reason no marriage is possible during the running of the year of patience unless the parties to the divorce re-marry each other again in a civil ceremony.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Swearing To Bring Up Children In Another Religion

As the Guardian pointed out…, no Bahá’í can conscientiously swear to bring up his children in another religion; and of course he has no right to lie; therefore it becomes impossible for him to make such a promise on his marriage to a non-Bahá’í. Any Bahá’í doing this should be deprived of his voting rights; and, as he has already made plain before, Bahá’ís who go to the church and are married as Christians must also of necessity be deprived of their voting rights.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

Violent and Abusive Behaviour

Violent or abusive behavior is a serious violation of Bahá’í law. Depending upon the circumstances, the National Spiritual Assembly may apply the sanction of removing an offender’s Bahá’í administrative rights.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 115)

It is important to note, however, that individuals who wish to present their views should do so in a way compatible with the Bahá’í spirit of consultation. It sometimes happens that a believer insists on expounding his views at Bahá’í meetings, and frequently disrupts such gatherings, and may even display such behaviour in the presence of non-Bahá’ís. If he stubbornly persists in this conduct, despite exhortations and warnings given to him by the proper Bahá’í institutions, he will somehow have to be prevented from taking the law into his own hands and jeopardizing Bahá’í interests. When differences such as these arise, it is important that frank and loving consultation between the person concerned and the Local Spiritual Assembly, and if need be the National Spiritual Assembly, should take place, or perhaps the institution of the Counsellors could help resolve the problem.  (Universal House of Justice, 7 February 1993, “Issues Concerning Community Functioning”)

Flagrant In Taking Alcoholic Drinks

In the case of a believer who continues to take alcoholic drinks, the Assembly should decide whether the offence is flagrant, and, if it is, should try to help him to understand the importance of obeying the Bahá’í law. If he does not respond he must be repeatedly warned and, if this is unsuccessful, he is subject to loss of his voting rights. In the case of an alcoholic who is trying to overcome his weakness the Assembly must show especial patience, and may have to suggest professional counselling and assistance. If the offence is not flagrant, the Assembly need take no action at all.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

Gossip

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. 59)

 Open Opposition To The Administration

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . .  open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

 Mental Illness or Incapacity 

In rare cases, administrative rights might be removed in cases where:

  • a person with mental incapacity due to such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and mental retardation
  • a person is unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so
  • a person with an abnormal mental condition
  • a person who is suffering from a mental illness with a certification of insanity by medical authorities or who is confined in a mental hospital

Believers with mental incapacity due to such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and mental retardation may be relieved of the responsibility to vote or undertake other administrative duties:

Mental incapacity may include such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias associated with aging and other intellectual disabilities, and mental retardation. Limitations on the administrative rights of mentally incapacitated individuals may be conferred in some cases and is intended not as a sanction but as a relief of the responsibility to vote or undertake other administrative duties.  (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.16)

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:

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.   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

This could also involve non-receipt of Bahá’í newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc:

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, p. 54)

This would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital:

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.    (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Assemblies must investigate every case that arises, consult with experts, and with the National Spiritual Assembly:

Regarding persons whose [mental] 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 National Spiritual Assembly. No doubt, the power of prayer is very great, yet consultation with experts is enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

If these experts believe that an abnormal case exists, the withholding of voting rights is justified:

Should these experts believe that an abnormal case exists, the withholding of voting rights is justified. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

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:

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, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Loss of Right of Parenthood:

In addition, there are certain situations in which Bahá’ís can lose their right of parenthood (thereby not being allowed to give consent to marriage.  This could arise when:

  • a parent has committed incest
  • the child was conceived as a consequence of rape
  • a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse.
  • a father neglects to educate his child

He (Bahá’u’lláh) has indicated that under certain circumstances, the parents could be deprived of the right of parenthood as a consequence of their actions. The Universal House of Justice has the right to legislate on this matter. It has decided for the present that all cases should be referred to it in which the conduct or character of a parent appears to render him unworthy of having such parental rights as that of giving consent to marriage. Such questions could arise, for example, when a parent has committed incest, or when the child was conceived as a consequence of rape, and also when a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

In some cases it is permissible under the law of God either for the parents or for the children to disown the other, to deprive the other of certain rights, to sever family ties and to renounce their responsibilities. However, the law thereof is to be decided by the Universal House of Justice.  (Shoghi Effendi, quoted in a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 19 Jan, 2010)

Should a father neglect this most weighty commandment laid down in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas by the Pen of the Eternal King, he shall forfeit rights of fatherhood, and be accounted guilty before God. Well is it with him who imprinteth on his heart the admonitions of the Lord, and steadfastly cleaveth unto them. God, in truth, enjoineth on His servants what shall assist and profit them, and enable them to draw nigh unto Him.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 138)

Resigning to Avoid Sanctions

We cannot escape administrative expulsion by the ruse of resigning from the Faith in order to break its law with impunity:

As you know, a believer cannot escape administrative expulsion by the ruse of resigning from the Faith in order to break its law with impunity. However, the Assembly should be satisfied that there was indeed such an ulterior motive behind the withdrawal. A believer’s record of inactivity and his general attitude to the Faith may well lead the Assembly to conclude that his withdrawal was bona fide, even though immediately succeeded by marriage, and in such a case the withdrawal may be accepted.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

To do so is to dissimulate one’s faith:

To deny that one is a Bahá’í while one still believes in Bahá’u’lláh is not withdrawal, it is dissimulation of one’s faith, and Bahá’í law does not countenance the dissimulation of a believer’s faith for the purpose of breaking the law.  If a believer who did not like a particular law were to be permitted to leave the community to break the law, and then rejoin with impunity, this would make a mockery of the Law of God… It is abundantly clear from his letters that he has continually believed in Bahá’u’lláh, that he knew the law that marriage is conditioned on the consent of parents, that he dissimulated his faith in order to be able to break this law with impunity. He must, therefore, be regarded as a Bahá’í without administrative rights.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

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:

The Beloved Guardian has directed me to write you concerning information which he has just received of your having indicated in 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 had been given that such action must not be taken under any circumstances; then there would be only one thing he could do 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)

What is included in Loss of Rights?

When a person loses his full voting rights, he is still considered a Baha’i, but not in good standing.

It follows, therefore, that a believer can continue calling himself a Bahá’í even though he may cease to be a voting member of the community.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

He can be debarred from:

  • serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly
  • attending the consultative portion of the 19 Day Feast
  • voting in elections
  • contributing to the Fund
  • holding office or serving on committees
  • representing the Faith in Public
  • used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Bahá’ís
  • attending International Conferences
  • receiving newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Bahá’ís
  • having a Baha’i marriage
  • marrying a Bahá’í in good standing
  • a Bahá’í pilgrimage
  • receiving credentials (which imply that he is a Bahá’í in good standing

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.  There are, of course, other sanctions than those mentioned in the above extract which can be imposed, such as debarring a believer from contributing to the Fund, debarring such a believer from serving on committees, debarring him from representing the Faith in public.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Justice, p. 55)

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 participating 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)

Full removal of administrative rights should be reserved for the most severe and intractable cases:

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)

Youth Can Also have their Rights Removed

With reference to the question in your second letter as to what disciplinary action can be taken 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 his 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)

Association with those who have lost their rights should be on a formal basis:

While it is not forbidden for the friends to associate with the individual, yet their association should be on a formal basis.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)

Marriage to someone who’s lost their rights:

A Bahá’í deprived of his voting rights cannot be married in a Bahá’í marriage ceremony; a Bahá’í in good standing cannot marry a Bahá’í who has lost his voting rights; the marriage of a Bahá’í who has lost his voting rights does not fall within the jurisdiction of a Bahá’í administrative institution.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

Laws of personal status, such as divorce:

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)

Partial Sanctions can also be administered:

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, Lights of Guidance, p. 55)

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 . . . 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)

The Rights That Are Not Denied

Loss of Administrative Rights is not Expulsion

Concerning your question as to the status of those individuals 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 no 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 an administrative sanction; whereas his expulsion or ex-communication from the Faith, which can be effected by the Guardian* alone in his capacity as the supreme spiritual head of the Community, has far-reaching spiritual implications affecting the very soul of that believer.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

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.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

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.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

Or a violation of civil rights

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)

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 his 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

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. 62)

What has been your experience?  How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below!