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<< LESSON V || SIX LESSONS ON BAHÁ'Í LAW || PURPOSE ||

LESSON VI
RELATION TO CIVIL LAW

OBEDIENCE TO GOVERNMENT

In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.

Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 22-23

O people: Spread not disorder in the land, and shed not the blood of any one, and consume not the substance of others wrongfully, neither follow every accursed prattler.

Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 25

We must obey and be the well-wishers of the governments of the land, regard disloyalty to a just king as disloyalty to God Himself and wishing evil to the government a transgression of the Cause of God.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Will and Testament, p. 8

Fighting, and the employment of force, even for the right cause, will not bring good results. The oppressed who have right on their side must not take that right by force; the evil would continue. Hearts must be changed.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London, p. 93

As regards the Bahá'í principle of obedience to just governments, what is meant here by just is recognized and well-established authority.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, National Bahá'í Review #7, p. 2

What the Master's statement really means is obedience to a duly constituted government, whatever that government may be in form. We are not the ones, as individual Bahá'ís to judge our government as just or unjust – for each believer would be sure to hold a different viewpoint, and within our own Bahá'í fold a hotbed of dissension would spring up and destroy our unity. We must build up our Bahá'í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their way. We cannot change them through our becoming involved in them; on the contrary, they will destroy us.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 350

The cardinal principle which we must follow is obedience to the Government prevailing in any land in which we reside....
    We must obey in all cases except where a spiritual principle is involved, such as denying our Faith. For these spiritual principles we must be willing to die. What we Bahá'ís must face is the fact that society is disintegrating so rapidly that moral issues which were clear a half century ago are now hopelessly confused and what is more, thoroughly mixed up with battling political interests. That is why the Bahá'ís must turn all their forces into the channel of building up the Bahá'í Cause and its Administration. They can neither change nor help the world in any other way at present. If they become involved in the issues the Governments of the world are struggling overt they will be lost. But if they build up the Bahá'í pattern they can offer it as a remedy when all else has failed.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 135 (Also LOG, p. 446)

The situation, as it stands at present, is highly disconcerting. The friends, however, faithful to the injunctions of the Master regarding obedience to government in all administrative matters as distinguished from those affecting their conscience and loyalty to the Cause strictly adhere to the laws and orders of the government. Their sole hope is the assurance that in due time all these restrictions are bound to disappear

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day, p. 52

We Bahá'ís are indeed most blessed in that we know that, however dark the days immediately ahead of the human race, the future is blessed and glorious. It is for this future that the believers must labour day and night, heedless of the state of the world and the dangers threatening.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, DND, p. 97-98

With reference to the absolute pacifists, or conscientious objectors to wart their attitude, judged from the Bahá'í standpoint, is quite anti-social and due to its exaltation of the individual conscience leads inevitably to disorder and chaos in society. Extreme pacifists are thus very close to the anarchists, in the sense that both of these groups lay an undue emphasis on the rights and merits of the individual. The Bahá'í conception of social life is essentially based on the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything, it follows the "golden mean." The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority.
    The other main objection to the conscientious objectors is that their method of establishing peace is too negative. Non-cooperation is too passive a philosophy to become an effective way for social reconstruction. Their refusal to bear arms can never establish peace. There should first be a spiritual revitalization which nothing except the Cause of God can effectively bring to every man s heart.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, pp. 436-437

But while this principle of equality of man and woman is true, it is likewise true that woman must prove her capacity and aptitude, must show forth the evidences of equality. She must become proficient in the arts and sciences and prove by her accomplishments that her abilities and powers have merely been latent. Demonstrations of force such as are now [1912] taking place in England are neither becoming nor effective in the cause of womanhood and equality. Woman must especially devote her energies and abilities toward the industrial and agricultural sciences, seeking to assist mankind in that which is most needful. By this means she will demonstrate capability and insure recognition of equality in the social and economic equation.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 283

Regarding the solution of the racial problem ... while the friends should faithfully and courageously uphold this Bahá'í principle of the essential unity of all human races, yet in the methods they adopt for its application and further realization on the social plane they should act with tact, wisdom and moderation. These two attitudes are by no means exclusive. Bahá'ís do not believe that the spread of the Cause and its principles and teachings can be effected by means of radical and violent methods. While they are loyal to all those teachings, yet they believe in the necessity of resorting to peaceful and friendly means for the realization of their aims.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, LOG, p. 534

Regarding the whole manner of teaching the Faith in the South: The Guardian feels that, although the greatest consideration should be shown the feelings of white people in the South whom we are teaching, under no circumstances should we discriminate in their favor, consider them more valuable to the Cause than their Negro fellow-southerners, or single them out to be taught the Message first. To pursue such a policy, however necessary and even desirable it may superficially seem, would be to compromise the true spirit of our Faith, which permits us to make no such distinctions in offering its tenets to the world.
    This does not mean that we should go against the laws of the state, pursue a radical course which will stir up trouble, and cause misunderstanding. On the contrary, the Guardian feels that, where no other course is open, the two races should be taught separately until they are fully conscious of the implications of being a Bahá'í, and then be confirmed and admitted to voting membership...
    Even in places where the two races can meet together in the South, he feels it would be, in certain cases, preferable to teach them separately until they are fully confirmed and then bring them together.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian, p. 77

From Bahá'í News #266, April, 1953:

Greenville, S.C., Group Wins Right to Hold Non-Segregated Meetings

What a joy it is to report this headline from the Greenville News, Greenville, S.C.: "No Effort Will Be Made to Stop Bahá'í Meetings," "Inter-Racial Sessions Not Contrary to City Law."
    Behind this headline is an appearance before the entire City governmental body by Dr. Roy Williams, chairman of the local Bahá'í Group. After presenting to the Mayor, City manager, City attorney, and the members of the City Council a pamphlet on the Faith, Dr. Williams answered questions.
    The Greenville News article states, "He explained that the Bahá'í Faith movement is a religious organization that must have non-segregated meetings each 19 days. He said the group did not wish to violate any city or state laws relating to segregation and asked Council for a ruling.
    "Several aldermen expressed the opinion that the group, as a religious organization, could not be interfered with in the process of its meetings and activities because of the guarantee of freedom of worship."
    Thus a goal toward which the local group had been working for ten years was achieved.

BN #266, p. 8


LEGAL STANDING: INCORPORATION

It is surely very important to give to the Local Spiritual Assemblies some legal standing, for as the Cause progresses and its adherents increase, they will be confronted with duties they cannot even imagine at present. Not only will they have to make contracts for acquiring halls for their meeting place, but also they will be obliged to create new institutions to care for their sick, poor and aged people....
    For such duties that will naturally devolve upon the Local Spiritual Assemblies there will be an increasing need for a legal standing. They will have to be considered as a legal person with the power of making binding contracts.
    In small centers where the friends are still few, the taking of such steps is rather premature and may add to the complexity of Bahá'í administration.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá'í Administration, p. 48

He feels that during the coming year every effort should be made by Assemblies that have a well-grounded, if small, community, to incorporate.
    He was particularly happy to hear of the incorporation of the Tokyo Spiritual Assembly. Indeed the initiative shown throughout the Pacific area in this respect and many others is truly challenging and stimulating; and the American Bahá'ís, the parents of so many of these other communities, should take heed and follow the lead of their exuberant offspring.
    ... The friends are not being forced to do anything, either by the Guardian or by the National Spiritual Assembly. However, the condition that the world is in is bringing many issues to a head.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, BN #307, pp. 1-2

The purpose of the By-Laws is to clarify and strengthen the administrative legal functions of a Bahá'í community.

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, LOG, p. 64


HOUSE OF JUSTICE (BAYTU'L-'ADL)
TEMPORARILY NAMED “SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY“

The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term "House of Justice" that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.
    Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs.

'Abdu'l-Bahá (circa 1903), Bahá'í World Faith, p. 406

For reasons which are not difficult to discover, it has been found advisable to bestow upon the elected representatives of Bahá'í communities throughout the world the temporary appellation of Spiritual Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the Bahá'í Faith are better understood and more fully recognized, will gradually be superseded by the permanent and more appropriate designation of House of Justice. Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled differently in the future, but they will be enabled also to add to their present functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives necessitated by the recognition of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh not merely as one of the recognized religious systems of the world, but as the State Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power.

Shoghi Effendi, 1929, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 6-7


DEFINITION OF “SPIRITUAL” IN LEGAL TERMINOLOGY

Spiritual courts. In English law. The ecclesiastical courts, or courts Christian.

Black's Law Dictionary


USE OF “SPIRITUAL COURT” IN LAW LITERATURE

On the twelfth day of 1965 a New York Times headline made it official that courts spiritual are also burdened by an affliction well known to courts temporal. It said:

Pope Paul Exhorts Matrimonial Courts to Reduce Delay

The dispatch reported that the Pontiff, in opening the judicial year of the Sacred Roman Rota, warned that "culpable delay" in the tribunals dispensing of justice is "in itself an act of injustice." The court members, he urged, must strive to avoid delays in handling matrimonial cases.
    If the pace of justice lags in the Sacred Rota in Rome, it is a fair surmise that it also limps at times in the courts of Islam and Israel and everywhere else. It is also a fair guess that the spiritual courts, like their secular opposites, are not encountering lagging justice for the first time in their history.

Maurice Rosenberg, The Courts, The Public and The Law Explosion, Court Congestion, p. 30*

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* This material is reprinted by permission of the copyright owner, The American Assembly, Columbia University.


SETTLEMENT OF DISPUTES

The art and science of dispute determination, while an ancient one, persists as an emergent problem in contemporary society.... The fact is that all means of dispute determination are in process of evolution and development. All are sorely needed. The most striking progress, however, has unquestionably been made in arbitration. This progress is largely due to the fact that it promises speed and low costs.
    Arbitration as a means of resolving disputes, has been in use in America since colonial times. As we know it, it is a procedure whereby the parties, by a prior agreement, place their dispute before an impartial person who, on the basis of evidence and arguments presented by the parties, renders a final and binding determination. Since arbitration involves dispute determination, it is in the nature of the judicial process. It differs from mediation or conciliation through which the parties reach an agreement with the aid of a third person. In arbitration, the dispute is referred for adjudication, not for settlement by compromise.

Associate Justice Charles D. Breitel, An Outline of Arbitration Procedure, pp. 3, 5


MEDIATION AND CONCILIATION

In the mediation of labour disputes, the (Conciliation) Service exercises no powers or authority over the decisions of the parties. The negotiations for settlement of the issues are conducted entirely on a voluntary basis.
    State conciliators are neutral public servants who remain impartial on the issues and do not seek to impress their will or judgment upon the parties.
    They are not one of the bargaining parties and have no authority to direct or determine any particular course of action.
    On the other hand, by their training and knowledge, State Conciliators, through acceptable methods, bring into the negotiations experienced viewpoints, new information, and new approaches in resolving issues.
    The chief responsibility of State Conciliators is to help the parties to reconcile their differences.

Thomas J. Nicolopulos, Supervisor, California State Conciliation Service


ARBITRATION

... He wrote Epistles to all the kings and rulers of nations, summoning them to arbitration ...

'Abdu'l-Bahá, PUP, p. 27

... in the Book of Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh commanded people to establish universal peace and summoned all the nations to the divine banquet of international arbitration, so that the questions of boundaries, of national honour and property and of vital interests between nations might be decided by an arbitral court of justice.... If any quarrel arise between two nations it must be adjudicated by this international court and be arbitrated and decided upon like the judgment rendered by the judge between two individuals.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, cited in Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, p. 168

Bahá'u'lláh declared the Most Great Peace and international arbitration.... He wrote ... that the happiness and glory of humanity can be assured only through disarmament and arbitration.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, PUP, p. 120

The most momentous question of this day is international peace and arbitration....

'Abdu'l-Bahá, PUP, p. 134

Universal peace will be established among the nations of the world by international agreement.... An arbitral court of justice shall be established by which international disputes are to be settled.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, PUP, p. 317

All disputes of an international character shall be submitted to this Court, its work being to arrange by arbitration everything which otherwise would be a cause of war.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 155

The tenth ray [of light] is the organization of the arbitral court of justice, or parliament of man before the members of which all the international intergovernmental problems are arbitrated.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 13, p. 260

Should differences arise they shall be amicably and conclusively settled by the Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.

'Abdu'1-Baha, Will and Testament, p. 13

It is necessary that the nations and governments organize an international tribunal to which all their disputes and differences shall be referred. The decision of that tribunal shall be final. Individual controversy will be adjudged by a local tribunal.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, PUP, p. 301

If a number of imaginary or real difficulties have arisen between Austria and Serbia, if they are really disinterested and are anxious to keep the balance of the Powers and not disturb the peace of Europe, why do they not go before the Court of Arbitration? The impartial members of that Court of Arbitral Justice will look into the nature of the claims of each party, and after mature investigation decide which one is in the right. Were they ready to refer all their differences to such a Court, this war would have been obviated. The Universal Court of Arbitration is the only body that shall resolve all the disagreements and contentions that arise between the nations of the world before which all their quarrels may be arbitrated.

'Abdu'1-Baha, SW, Vol. V, p. 165

Touching the point raised in the secretary's letter regarding the nature and scope of the Universal Court of Arbitration, this and other similar matters will have to be explained and elucidated by the Universal House of Justice....

Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, p. 47

He was furthermore highly elated to learn that the prestige, the integrity and ability of the local Bahá'í Assemblies in that province (Isfáhán) had of late stood so high that non-Bahá'ís, exasperated by the corruption and incompetence of their own judges, had more than once freely submitted cases of dispute to the judgment of the elected representatives of the Bahá'í community in their locality.

Shoghi Effendi, 1929, BA, p. 172

Among the powers and duties with which the Universal House of Justice has been invested are:.... To adjudicate disputes falling within its purview; ... to provide for the arbitration and settlement of disputes arising between peoples....

Universal House of Justice, Constitution, pp. 5-6

The local Assembly, as the Guardian has stated, can act as a board of arbitration if the couple disagrees about the terms and conditions of divorce, and when it so acts the couple are to abide by its decision.

NSA of US, Annual Reports, 1955 — 56, p. 27

In a land which has for years so savagely persecuted the Faith, a man who for forty years has been known throughout Persia as a Mírzá, has been made the sole arbitrator in a case of dispute which involves, on the one hand, the Zillu-i-Sultan, the tyrannical son of the Shah and a sworn enemy of the Cause, and, on the other, Mírzá Fath-'Ali Khan, the Sahib-i-Divan. It has been publicly announced that whatsoever be the verdict of this Mírzá, the same should be unreservedly accepted by both parties and should be unhesitatingly enforced.

Nabíl-i-A'zam, Dawn-Breakers, p. 155

Quotations from Alexander Lindey, Separation Agreements:*

Arbitration is the adjudication of a controversy by an impartial person, or by a board of impartial persons, whose decision is called an award and is final and binding. Unlike a dispute taken to court, arbitration is entered into voluntarily; the parties themselves define the issue, select the arbitrator or arbitrators, and prescribe the rules to be followed. Almost any dispute that can be litigated can be settled by arbitration if the two sides so desire. (29-9)
    The jurisdiction of arbitrators derives from and is restricted by the submission agreement; and the award must be co-extensive therewith. If the arbitrators act within the limits imposed by the submission agreement, the merits of their award are not open to court review; nor does any faulty reasoning on their part, if disclosed, vitiate the award.
    Arbitrators act in a quasi-judicial capacity, and must be impartial, so as to render a faithful, honest and disinterested award. (29-12)
    The conclusiveness of awards is based upon the principle that the parties having chosen judges of their own and agreed to abide by their decision, they are bound by their agreement and compelled to perform the award.
    The award of an arbitrator cannot be set aside for mere errors of judgment, either as to the law or as to facts. If he keeps within his jurisdiction and is not guilty of fraud, corruption or other misconduct affecting his award, it is unassailable, operates as a final and conclusive judgment and however disappointing it may be, the parties must abide by it. (29-17)

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* This material is reprinted by permission of the copyright owner, Matthew Bender & Company, Inc.

Under New York law, an award will be vacated by the court only (a) where it was procured by corruption, fraud or other improper means; or (b) where there was evident partiality on the part of the arbitrators; or (c) where they were guilty of misconduct prejudicial to a party, such as refusing to postpone the hearing upon sufficient cause shown, or refusing to hear evidence material to the controversy; or (d) where they exceeded their powers or failed to render a final and definite award; or (e) where there was no valid submission or contract. (29-18)

Practical Suggestions

  1. The essential purpose of a separation agreement is to prevent the airing of marital troubles in court. Unless there are persuasive considerations to the contrary, provision should be made for arbitration.

  2. The advantages of arbitration are (a) the privacy of the hearings, which precludes notoriety; (b) the possibility of securing arbitrators professionally qualified to deal with the controversy (where the husband is to pay the wife a certain percentage of his income, and there is a dispute as to his books and records, an accountant on the board of arbitrators will be most helpful); (c) informality of procedure, which permits the parties to unburden themselves in a way impossible in court; (d) speedy disposition, which our courts with their congested calendars cannot even remotely match; and (e) savings in expenses.

  3. The disadvantages of arbitration are (a) that arbitrators are not bound by principles of substantive law or the rules of evidence; (b) that the parties may, in their testimony, wander far afield and rake up old grievances that they could not air in court; (c) that there is no right of appeal; (d) that the average person who serves as arbitrator has had neither training nor experience in strict impartiality; and (e) that such person may be a busy man, viewing arbitration as an encroachment on his time, and hence likely to arrive at a snap judgment....
    ...

  4. An arbitration clause has a useful function that is sometimes overlooked. Occasionally parties about to enter into a separation agreement, while seeing eye to eye on most of the provisions, find it impossible to meet on some terms that are not immediately applicable, but may come into play at some future time. In such a case a simple expedient is not to try to resolve the problem immediately but to leave it to arbitration when it actually arises. This does not necessarily mean that a clash is being postponed. It may well be that when the question does present itself, perhaps years after the execution of the agreement, there has been a complete change of temper and attitude of the parties....

  5. Where the separation agreement is the culmination of a protracted campaign of mutual harassment between the parties, or where one party has shown a persistent tendency to goad and pester the other about details, an arbitration clause may turn out to be a weapon of continued spite, and thus defeat the whole purpose of the agreement, which is to restore peace and sanity between the parties.

  6. ... experience has shown that the mere incorporation of an arbitration clause in an agreement has a salutary psychological effect, in that it impels the parties to adjust their differences between themselves where they otherwise might not. Moreover, an arbitration clause as to the custody (as well as related problems) stands so long as neither party challenges it. As a practical matter, it is rarely challenged, and arbitration proceeds without a hitch. And if that happens, surely no principle of sound social policy is contravened. A doctor serving as an arbitrator will presumably render at least as wise a decision as a judge might in a dispute between ex-spouses as to the kind of medical treatment their child should have. There was a time when the mere suggestion that alimony be fixed by arbitration instead of by decree would have drawn thunder and lightning from the bench; today support is arbitrable in New York. (29-1 to 4)
        Where a subsequent divorce is a possibility, the separation agreement serves a double purpose. Not only does it settle custody, support and property rights, but it furnishes a practical and socially desirable simplification of the divorce procedure. The sole issues that remain to be litigated are jurisdiction and the existence of good grounds for divorce; and there is no occasion for the kind of embittered court battle as to alimony and custody that causes notoriety, expense and psychological damage. (31-1)


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