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Who Removes Administrative Rights?

The National Spiritual Assembly itself:

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, Lights of Guidance, p. 55)

Furthermore, any decision involving a believer’s administrative rights is to be made by action of the Assembly itself.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

It’s a weighty responsibility, which requires mature understanding and judgement:

Applying these principles requires mature understanding and judgement and great love for one’s fellow men.  It is a weighty responsibility which rests upon the shoulders of the members of Spiritual Assemblies.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 500)

Overview 

Before removing administrate rights, the NSA has the duty to:

  • confer with the individuals in a loving manner to help them overcome the problem
  • warn them that they must desist
  • issue further warnings if the original warnings are not followed

. . .  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, p. 50)

Theirs is not the duty to pry into personal lives but to create positive environments

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)

No “Baha’i Police”

Assembly should develop a warm and loving relationship so that it can most effectively nurture and encourage us to a deeper understanding of the teachings, and assist us to follow the Bahá’í principles in our personal conduct:

The aim of any Spiritual Assembly should be to develop a warm and loving relationship with the believers in its community, so that it can most effectively nurture and encourage them in the acquisition of a deeper understanding of the teachings, and can assist them to follow the Bahá’í principles in their personal conduct. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Assemblies should strive to become loving parents rather than harsh, judgmental and punitive:

The Assembly should aspire to being regarded by the members of the community as a loving parent, wise in its understanding of the varying degrees of maturity of those entrusted to its care, compassionate in dealing with the problems which arise as a result of any shortcomings, ever prepared to guide them to the correct path, and very patient as they strive to effect the necessary changes in their behaviour. Such an approach is far removed from the harshly judgmental and punitive approach which so often characterizes the administration of law in the wider society. The Bahá’í application of justice, firmly rooted in spiritual principle and animated by the desire to foster the spiritual development of the members of the community, will increasingly be seen as a distinctive and highly attractive feature of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Reasons for Sanctions

The motives behind removing someone’s administrative rights is not to condemn and punish but to assist him to bring his behaviour into conformity with the Teachings and also to protect the community:

The principal motive is not to condemn and punish the individual but to assist him, if necessary, to bring his behaviour into conformity with the Teachings and also to protect the community.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

It’s hoped that the person will see that his behaviour is in violation of the teachings, endeavour to rectify his conduct, and be welcomed back into the community:

It should be the hope and prayer of the Assembly that the believer who has been administratively expelled from membership in the Bahá’í community will come to see that his behaviour is in violation of the teachings, will endeavour to rectify his conduct, and will thus open the way to being welcomed back into the community so that he can lend his support to the vital and glorious task of establishing the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Reporting an Offense to the Assembly

Individuals must be loving, forgiving and overlook each other’s faults:

In their relationships with one another individual believers should be loving and forgiving, overlooking one another’s faults for the sake of God.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

The Spiritual Assemblies are the upholders of the Law of God.

The Spiritual Assemblies are the upholders of the Law of God. They are embryonic Houses of Justice. The education of a child requires both love and discipline; so also does the education of believers and the education of a community. One of the failings of Bahá’ís, however, is to confuse these two roles, individuals behaving like little Spiritual Assemblies, and Spiritual Assemblies forgetting that they must exercise justice. (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

There is no fixed rule to follow:

While it can be a severe test to a Bahá’í to see fellow believers violating Bahá’í laws or engaging in conduct inimical to the welfare and best interests of the Faith, there is no fixed rule that a believer must follow when such conduct comes to his notice. A great deal depends upon the seriousness of the offence and upon the relationship which exists between him and the offender.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If you’re not sure whether to report an offense or not, consult with the LSA or Auxiliary Board:

If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’í’s misconduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or Assistant.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith, it should be immediately reported:

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith the believer to whose attention it comes should immediately report it to the Local Spiritual Assembly. (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Once it is in the hands of the Assembly it’s no longer your problem:

Once it is in the hands of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement – unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

When the Situation is not grave enough to report

There are several steps you can take:

  • ignore it altogether
  • foster friendly relations
  • tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities hoping he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct
  • tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings

Sometimes, however, the matter does not seem grave enough to warrant reporting to the Spiritual Assembly, in which case it may be best to ignore it altogether. There are also other things that can be done by the Bahá’í to whose notice such things come. For example he could foster friendly relations with the individual concerned, tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities in the hope that, as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct. Or perhaps the relationship is such that he can tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Don’t pry into his affairs or tell him what to do:

But here he must be very careful not to give him the impression of prying into a fellow-believer’s private affairs or of telling him what he must do, which would not only be wrong in itself but might well produce the reverse of the desired reaction.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

No hard and fast rules

Some things are between us and God, others may require some form of sanction:

There are certain teachings and exhortations the observance of which is solely between the individual and God; the non-observance of other laws and ordinances incurs some form of sanction. Some of these violations incur punishment for a single offence, while others are punished only after repeated warnings have failed to remedy the violation. (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Every case is different:

It is not possible to establish a single rule applicable automatically and invariably. Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Everyone has particular circumstances which must be taken into account:

The House of Justice does not feel that it is appropriate, at this time, to attempt to define a detailed procedure of steps to be taken in carrying out such an investigation. Every case is different and every individual has his or her own particular circumstances which must be taken into account. In reviewing the procedure proposed to you, it is apparent to the House of Justice that there may well be circumstances in which this would not be the best course of action. Likewise, the process to be followed for the investigation may only become apparent progressively, and could not be outlined at the beginning. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

There is no formal set of procedures to be applied universally:

The Administrative Order has not adopted a formal set of procedures to be applied universally in the Bahá’í community for dealing with infringements of Bahá’í law. Rather, the National Spiritual Assembly in its operation is guided and constrained by the Teachings and committed to protect and preserve the rights of both the individual and the community.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

 

Each Case on its own Merit

In deciding whether or not to remove voting rights, every case should be considered on its merits and in light of the particular circumstances.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

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 favourably if left to his own devices for a time.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60)

Fact Finding

Removal of administrative rights can’t be done without a diligent and persistent effort to investigate and review of the facts:

There is no justification for the suspension of a believer’s administrative rights pending investigation and review of the facts of the matter in which he is involved. As we have repeatedly stated, the application of sanctions is a very serious action and should be imposed only in extreme cases. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

Acquaint themselves with the facts before passing judgement:

Hence, while there is no fixed procedure for the discovery of facts necessary for the adjudication of a case, it is a matter of principle that Assemblies must, before passing judgement, acquaint themselves, through means they themselves devise, with the facts of any case.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Regardless of the consequences of civil law, the Assembly must ascertain the facts:

When an allegation is made that a believer has violated Bahá’í law, irrespective of the consequence in civil law, the process of investigation calls for a diligent and persistent effort by the Assembly to ascertain the facts. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Facts can be ascertained in a variety of ways:

  • all the facts can be supplied by a few members
  • the facts may be common knowledge
  • it may be necessary to obtain further facts
  • the Assembly may appoint Assembly or community members to gather the facts on its behalf

When consulting on a matter an Assembly may find that all the facts can be supplied by a few members of the Assembly or that the facts may be common knowledge to the members. At times, it may be necessary to obtain further facts. The Assembly may appoint Assembly or community members to gather the facts on its behalf. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

It’s important for them to investigate or verifiy issues in order for truth to be discovered and understood.

… if there be no investigation or verification of questions and matters, the agreeable view will not be discovered neither understood.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 406)

Avoid accepting the word of either party before a thorough examination of the facts and without obtaining the comments of all parties:

In disputes between believers regarding personal matters, Assemblies should generally avoid accepting the word of either party before a thorough examination of the facts and without obtaining the comments of all parties. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Determining Flagrant and Blatant is the job of the Assembly:

It is not the business either of the believers or of the Spiritual Assemblies, to pry into the lives of individual friends to ascertain the degree to which they are living up to the standards of the Cause. Only if misbehaviour becomes blatant and flagrant does it become a matter for action, and then it is a matter for action by the Assembly and not by individuals. Even then the Assembly must be loving and patient, and exhort the believer to follow the Path of the Cause, but, if he persists in openly and flagrantly flouting Bahá’í law the Assembly has no alternative to ultimately depriving him of his voting rights.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

We have a responsibility to speak the truth:

The process of fact finding requires wholehearted cooperation and truth before a divinely ordained institution:

. . . the process of investigation calls for . . . wholehearted cooperation of all concerned in the search for truth. Believers called upon to provide information should, if necessary, be reminded of the responsibility they bear to speak the truth and of the spiritual consequences of a failure to do so. `Abdu’l-Bahá asserts:

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness, progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired.

If this “holy attribute” should adorn the behaviour of believers toward others, how much more should it characterize the statements which a Bahá’í makes to a divinely ordained institution.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

We must cooperate fully with the Assembly:

The prospect of a believer’s displaying an attitude of hostility, when being interviewed by a Spiritual Assembly or its representatives who are seeking to determine the facts of the matter, is abhorrent. All believers are strongly enjoined to have the utmost respect for the Assemblies, to cooperate fully with them, and to support their decisions. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

If anyone acts hostile towards them, the Assembly should appeal to him for cooperation and remind him of the administrative consequences of his actions:

An Assembly enquiring into a matter should not allow itself to be deterred by the hostility of a believer who is withholding relevant information; it should appeal to him for cooperation, remind him forcefully of his responsibilities and, in extreme cases such as threats made to the investigators, warn him of the administrative consequences of the persistence of his deplorable conduct.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Meeting with the Assembly

Efforts should be made to help the person feel comfortable in the presence of the Assembly:

Interviews should be conducted with loving-kindness and tact, and efforts should be made to help the person being interviewed feel comfortable in the presence of the Assembly or its representatives. The Assembly members should be careful not to share their personal opinions during the interview.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

The Assembly ascertains the facts with the wholehearted cooperation of all concerned:

When an allegation is made that a believer has violated Bahá’í law, irrespective of the consequence in civil law, the process of investigation calls for a diligent and persistent effort by the Assembly to ascertain the facts, and for wholehearted cooperation of all concerned in the search for truth. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

No one has to confess to anyone about anything:

On the subject of confession the Guardian’s secretary wrote on his behalf to an individual believer: “We are forbidden to confess to any person, as do the Catholics to their priests, our sins and shortcomings, or to do so in public, as some religious sects do.   (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 23)

If we want to admit to a wrong-doing, we are free to do so:

However, if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something, or that we have some fault of character, and ask another person’s forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so. The Guardian wants to point out, however, that we are not obliged to do so. It rests entirely with the individual.  (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 23)

Assembly members don’t share their opinions during the interview:

The Assembly members should be careful not to share their personal opinions during the interview.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Decisions are not made until after you’ve left the meeting:

The Spiritual Assembly should not make any final decision until the party or parties have left the meeting. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Warnings

Warnings are issued first, before rights are removed:

…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 misdemeanour they are committing, and finally, after these repeated warnings, be deprived of the voting rights.  There are, however, many different ways in which this is applied, depending upon the nature of the offence and the situation in each case.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

Education, counseling and warnings are needed:

For example, when there is an isolated but serious offence, such as that of a Bahá’í woman who indulges in one act of immorality as a result of which she gives birth to a child out of wedlock, this is no grounds for the removal of administrative rights. But the Assembly, when it learns of the situation, should certainly arrange for the believer to be met and consulted with, to ascertain her attitude to the situation. If she has no regret for the offence and indicates that she feels free to repeat it in future, she will need to be educated in the teachings, counselled and, if she does not change her attitude, to be warned that a continuation of such actions would cause forfeiture of her administrative rights. If, however, she is contrite and is determined to lead a moral life henceforth, there would be no question of sanctions. The same course would be followed with the man involved, if he were a Bahá’í. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Another example would involve, not a single offence, but a continuing course of behaviour, such as flagrant and continuing violation of the law prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In such a situation the Assembly should explain the law to the believer, urge him to obey it, encourage and assist him and warn him if necessary. If the response in favourable there would, again be no need to deprive him of his administrative rights, but, if the believer is obdurate or continues in his course of misbehaviour, he should according to the circumstances of each case, be warned and warned again, with increasing severity and a time set for him to rectify his conduct. If this produces no amelioration, he would have to lose his administrative rights. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

A third example involves the taking of a definite step which violates a clear law with which the believer is familiar. In this instance, the Assembly may conclude that the believer had been warned repeatedly of the consequences of such behaviour through statements in widely circulated Bahá’í publications or in the deepening which a member of the community might reasonably be expected to have received. Into this category would fall the offenses against the Bahá’í requirement of parental consent to marriage, and the violations of law about which general warnings have been given in your newsletter.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

You should vigilantly watch over and protect the interests of the Bahá’í community, and the moment you see that any of the … Bahá’ís … are acting in a way to bring disgrace upon the name of the Faith, warn them, and, if necessary, deprive them immediately of their voting rights if they refuse to change their ways. Only in this way can the purity of the Faith be preserved. Compromise and weak measures will obscure the vision of its followers, sap its strength, lower it in the eyes of the public and prevent it from making any progress.  (Shoghi Effendi, Compilation of Compilations, v2, p. 114)

Only when someone ignores admonishments, persists in misconduct and knowingly and consistently violates the law, would an Assembly consider applying administrative sanctions:

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)

Patience is Needed

Be extremely patient and forbearing:

Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time.   (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Love and patience are needed towards new believer:

Great love and patience are needed towards new believers, especially those who have come from very troubled backgrounds, but ultimately they too have to learn the responsibilities they have taken upon themselves by accepting Bahá’u’lláh and must uphold the principles that Bahá’u’lláh has revealed. If they do not do so, how can the condition of mankind be improved? Some people accept the Faith, not as a response to the divine Summons to God’s service, but as a way to find love and happiness and companionship and understanding for themselves. At the beginning this is only natural, for people are sorely in need of such spiritual strengths, but if such people do not soon progress to the point where they are more concerned about what they can do for God and His Cause than what it can do for them, they will surely become disillusioned and drift away. Arousing in the hearts of the friends the enthusiasm and spirit of selfless service that will carry them over this transition is one of the most fundamental aspects of deepening and consolidation. Deepening is far more a matter of developing a spiritual attitude, devotion and selflessness than it is of acquiring information, although this, of course, is also important.  ( Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

Loving forbearance is often called for in the place of harsh measures

He feels that your Assembly must keep before its eyes the balance specified by Bahá’u’lláh, Himself, in other words, justice, reward and retribution. Although the Cause is still young and tender, and many of the believers inexperienced, and therefore loving forbearance is often called for in the place of harsh measures, this does not mean that a National Spiritual Assembly can under any circumstances tolerate disgraceful conduct, flagrantly contrary to our Teachings, on the part of any of its members, whoever they may be and from wherever they may come…  (Shoghi Effendi, Compilation of Compilations, v2, p. 114)

Be patient and forbearing with indigenous people – focus on education:

Particularly in the application of these laws to indigenous people should you be patient and forbearing.  The emphasis should be on education rather than on rigid enforcement of the law immediately.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pp. 383-384)

Patience towards those who are striving to change practices and attitudes

Such an attitude of forbearance, restraint, and patience towards believers who are striving to change practices and attitudes acquired in the years before they entered the sanctuary of the Cause of God should not blind a National Assembly to the fact that, at this stage in the development of the Faith, there may well be some believers in the community whose behaviour necessitates that they be treated in a firm and uncompromising manner. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Better to provide proper deepening

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. 59)

Dispassionate counselling over an extended period is generally required

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

Follow the Middle Way

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)

Help people draw closer to the Faith while protecting it from negative influences:

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)

Decision Taken Reluctantly

This is the heaviest sanction, short of ex-communication:

…he feels that all National Spiritual Assemblies should bear in mind that this is the heaviest sanction we possess at present in the Faith, short of ex-communication, which lies within the powers of the Guardian alone, and is consequently a very weighty weapon to wield.  He considers that under no circumstances should any Bahá’í ever be suspended from the voting list and deprived of his administrative privileges for a matter which is not of the utmost gravity. By that he means breaking of laws, such as the consent of parents to marriage, etc., or acts of such an immoral character as to damage the good name of the Faith.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

Decision taken reluctantly when the Bahá’í community or its reputation in the eyes of the public must be protected:

It is clear that the removal of voting rights is a serious action which an Assembly should take reluctantly when the circumstances require that the Bahá’í community or its reputation in the eyes of the public must be protected from the effects of an individual’s behaviour, and where the authority of the laws of the Faith must be upheld. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Resorted to only when absolutely necessary:

The deprivation of a person’s voting rights should only be resorted to when absolutely necessary, and a National Spiritual Assembly should always feel reluctant to impose this very heavy sanction which is a severe punishment. Of course sometimes, to protect the Cause, it must be done. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 61)

Be cautious so it isn’t abused:

The Guardian however, wishes the National Assemblies to be very cautious in using this sanction, because it might be abused, and then lose its efficacy.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)

Used only when there is no other way to solve the problem:

It should be used only when there seems no other way to solve the problem.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)

The friends must be nursed and assisted, for their ‘sins’ are mostly those of immaturity:

As he already told you in a previous communication he feels that your Assembly should not deprive people of their voting rights unless the matter is really very grave; this is a very heavy sanction, and can embitter the heart if lightly imposed, and also make people think we unduly resort to pressure of a strong nature. The friends must be nursed and assisted, for they are still mostly immature spiritually, and their ‘sins’ are those of immaturity! Their hearts are loyal to the Cause, and this is the most important thing.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

Ignorance of Baha’i Law can be a Valid Excuse

Newly declared believers may be ignorant of Baha’i law:

At the present time, when Bahá’í laws are being progressively applied throughout the world, and when many Bahá’í communities include a large proportion of newly declared believers, National Spiritual Assemblies are authorized to accept ignorance of the Bahá’í law as a valid excuse for failure to adhere to its provisions when an Assembly is convinced that such ignorance existed. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Care should still be taken to avoid the unwarranted exoneration of behaviour contrary to the teachings:

However, care should be taken to avoid the unwarranted exoneration of behaviour contrary to the teachings, in applying Bahá’í law.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Great wisdom is required since those guilty of flagrant misconduct may attempt to escape the administrative consequence of his behaviour through claiming ignorance:

The Universal House of Justice has stated that, in matters concerning the deprivation of voting rights, an Assembly should bear in mind that, at the present time, when Bahá’í laws are being progressively applied and a sizeable proportion of a community consists of newly declared believers, an Assembly may accept ignorance of the Bahá’í law as a valid excuse when it is convinced that such ignorance existed; great wisdom is required in the application of this provision, since it is not unknown for a believer guilty of flagrant misconduct to attempt to escape the administrative consequence of his behaviour through a fervent but spurious claim of ignorance of the law.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Circumstances which would render the believer exempt from administrative sanctions include lack of understanding of the spirit of the law:

The situation described in your letter . . . represents a special case in which the individual concerned “knew the letter of the law” but “may have been totally ignorant of its significance or binding effect” due to her “almost immediate loss of contact with the Bahá’í community for a number of years” following her declaration, and during which period she married without fulfilling the Bahá’í requirements . . . it appears that the believers involved in the violation of Bahá’í marriage laws, regarded themselves as Bahá’í, were aware of the law, and had a degree of understanding of its significance. It is unrealistic to withhold the application of sanctions on the grounds that a believer does not have a true grasp or understanding of the law; a Bahá’í who has such a comprehension would find abhorrent the prospect of violating the law, while the very act of failing to adhere to the provisions of the law would disclose a lack of true understanding and would thus render the believer exempt from administrative sanctions.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

We should not confuse true believers with those who are not quickened with the spirit of faith, have some ulterior motive, or are indifferent to the damage they may do the Cause:

…we should not confuse the true believers with those who are not quickened with the spirit of faith, have some ulterior motive, or are indifferent to the reputation they have personally, and the damage they may do the Cause in the eyes of the public. There is all the difference in the world between these two categories, and your Assembly must be ever watchful and ready to take action when necessary.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Making the Decision

Assemblies are called upon to apply these laws with justice and consistency and to avoid compromise:

The Assemblies are called upon to apply these laws with justice and consistency, and to avoid any compromise which could weaken respect for the law or could gradually erode that sense of discipline which should distinguish the Bahá’í community at a time when the rule of law is being discredited and disdained in the wider society.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Decide how much weight to give to each factor:

The purpose of the administrative sanction should be borne clearly in mind in deciding how much weight to give to factors such as the passage of time, the extent to which the individual concerned has experienced an adverse reaction in the Bahá’í community, the degree of suffering and contrition exhibited by the believer whose status in being questioned, his stature in the Bahá’í community or the wider society, and media publicity of his delinquent behaviour. While there is room for compassion, this should not deflect you from giving due consideration to the responsibility you bear to protect the community and its good name, and to uphold the authority of Bahá’í law. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Factors to be kept in mind include:

  • the passage of time
  • the extent to which the individual concerned has experienced an adverse reaction in the Bahá’í community
  • the degree of suffering and contrition exhibited
  • his stature in the Bahá’í community or the wider society
  • media publicity of his delinquent behaviour

Decisions are not made with the person in the meeting:

The Spiritual Assembly should not make any final decision until the party or parties have left the meeting. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Only Assembly members can be present at a time when the Assembly is in the actual process of consultation with a view to reaching a decision:

It is permissible for any Spiritual Assembly to call in youth or anyone else for consultation on matters affecting the progress of the Cause. However, it is not permissible for anyone not a member of an Assembly to sit in on all sessions nor to be present at a time when the Assembly is in the actual process of consultation on a particular problem with a view to reaching a decision.    (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Or when a decision of the Assembly is being taken:

One of the fundamental principles of the Bahá’í Administration is that, other than the members of the Assembly, no one should be present when a decision of the Assembly is being taken.   (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

That includes members of other Institutions of the Faith:

It is a necessary practice that Assemblies meet with the Hands of the Cause, Counselors, Auxiliary Board members, or other individuals, and freely consult with them on different issues and even arrive sometimes at a joint conclusion; however, only members of an Assembly should be present when a final decision is taken. This principle applies, of course, to the functioning of other elected or appointed corporate bodies, such as Regional Bahá’í Councils.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Turn to God in Prayer and record their vote:

When an Assembly comes to the point where it must make a decision in the face of conflicting assertions and insistent denials, it might well recall advice of the Guardian:

..when they are called upon to arrive at a certain decision, they should, after dispassionate, anxious, and cordial consultation, turn to God in Prayer, and with earnestness and conviction and courage record their vote…  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Hopefully a decision will be carried unanimously:

If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87)

If there are differences of opinion, a majority of voices must prevail:

. . .  should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)

If unanimity is not subsequently achieved, decisions are arrived at by majority vote.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

There may be times when an Assembly may decide to leave the individual to go his or her own way:

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)

Guidance and Assistance required before and after a decision is made:

While the Assembly should always be concerned about matters which might affect the good name of the Faith, it should be remembered that a believer involved in such matters is entitled to the understanding of the Assembly and may need its guidance and assistance both before and after any decision regarding sanctions is made.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

Notifying the Community

The NSA can decide whether to notify the community; how to do it; and whether to include the reasons:

It is within the discretion of a National Spiritual Assembly to decide whether to notify the community when a believer has been deprived of his administrative rights; the Assembly is also free to decide how such a notification is to be made, and whether or not the reasons for the deprivation are to be disclosed. Such decisions might be made with regard to the purposes which would be served by such an announcement, and the benefit to the community of such knowledge. If a believer advises you of an appeal to the Universal House of Justice against your decision to withdraw his voting rights, he remains without these rights while the merit of his appeal is being assessed by the House of Justice; it would generally be preferable not to make an announcement to the community about his loss of voting rights while the appeal is being considered, but special circumstances, such as the imperative need to protect the Bahá’í community from his actions, could compel you to do otherwise.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Refrain from Gossip and Backbiting, as these can harm the Faith and cause more damage than the original offence:

Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offence.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Support the Decisions:  Even if the Assembly is wrong, we have to sacrifice our personalities and learn to obey for the sake of unity:

They have to learn to obey, even when the Assembly may be wrong, for the sake of unity. They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent, in order that the community life may grow and develop as a whole. These things are difficult – but we must realize that they will lead us to a very much greater, more perfect, way of life when the Faith is properly established according to the administration.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, no. 1469)

Even if errors are made, we must wholeheartedly support the Assembly’s decision:

Undoubtedly errors are made and will continue to be made, but the more the friends are united and wholeheartedly support their Assemblies, the sooner will these mature in their decisions and actions, outgrow their mistakes, and become strong magnets for the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

If we don’t abide by its decisions, it will undermine the institutions:

The Assembly may make a mistake, but, as the Master pointed out, if the Community does not abide by its decisions, or the individual Bahá’í, the result is worse, as it undermines the very institution which must be strengthened in order to uphold the principles and laws of the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 81)

If we undermine the Institutions, criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, we prevent progress in the Faith’s development and repel outsiders:

The Guardian believes that a great deal of the difficulties from which the believers … feel themselves to be suffering are caused by their neither correctly understanding nor putting into practice the administration. They seem – many of them – to be prone to continually challenging and criticizing the decisions of their Assemblies. If the Bahá’ís undermine the very bodies which are, however immaturely, seeking to co-ordinate Bahá’í activities and administer Bahá’í affairs, if they continually criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, they not only prevent any real rapid progress in the Faith’s development from taking place, but they repel outsiders who quite rightly may ask how we ever expect to unite the whole world when we are so disunited among ourselves! There is only one remedy for this: to study the administration, to obey the Assemblies, and each believer seek to perfect his own character as a Bahá’í. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, no. 1469)

If we are obedient, God will right the wrongs done:

He tells us God will right the wrongs done. We must have confidence in this and obey our Assemblies.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 81)

How has this helped you understand the requirements of the NSA in these situations?  Post your comments below!