The Right of Deliberative Assemblies to Punish their Members. A deliberative assembly has the inherent right to make and enforce its own laws and punish an offender--the extreme penalty, however, being expulsion from its own body. When expelled, if the assembly is a permanent society, it has a right, for its own protection, to give public notice that the person has ceased to be a member of that society.
But it has no right to go beyond what is necessary for self protection and publish the charges against the member. In a case where a member of a society was expelled, and an officer of the society published, by their order, a statement of the grave charges upon which he had been found guilty, the expelled member recovered damages from the officer, in a suit for libel--the court holding that the truth of the charges did not affect the case.
The Right of an Assembly to Eject any one from its place of meeting. Every deliberative assembly has the right to decide who may be present during its session, and when the assembly, either by a rule or by a vote, decides that a certain person shall not remain in the room, it is the duty of the chairman to enforce the rule or order, using whatever force is necessary to eject the party.
The chairman can detail members to remove the person, without calling upon the police. If, however, in enforcing the order, any one uses harsher treatment than is necessary to remove the person, the courts have held that he, and he alone is liable to prosecution, just the same as a policeman would be under similar circumstances. However badly the man may be abused while being removed from the room, neither the chairman nor the society are liable for damages, as, in ordering his removal, they did not exceed their legal rights.
Rights of Ecclesiastical Tribunals. Many of our deliberative assemblies are ecclesiastical bodies, and it is important to know how much respect will be paid to their decisions by the civil courts.
A church became divided and each party claimed to be the church, and therefore entitled to the church property. The case was taken into the civil courts, and finally, on appeal, to the U. S. Supreme Court, which held the case under advisement for one year, and then reversed the decision of the State Court, because it conflicted with the decision of the highest ecclesiastical court that had acted upon the case. The Supreme Court, in rendering its decision, laid down the broad principle that, when a local church is but a part of a larger and more general organization or denomination, it will accept the decision of the highest ecclesiastical tribunal to which the case has been carried within that general church organization, as final, and will not inquire into the justice or injustice of its decree as between the parties before it. The officers, the ministers, the members, or the church body which the highest judiciary of the denomination recognizes, the court will recognize. Whom that body expels or cuts off, the court will hold to be no longer members of that church.
Trial of Members of Societies. Every deliberative assembly, having the right to purify its own body, must therefore have the right to investigate the character of its members.
It can require any of them to testify in the case, under pain of expulsion if they refuse. In § 36 is shown the method of procedure when a member is charged with violating the rules of decorum in debate. If the disorderly words are of a personal nature, before the assembly proceeds to deliberate upon the case, both parties to the personality should retire. It is not necessary for the member objecting to the words to retire, unless he is personally involved in the case.
When the charge is against the member's character, it is usually referred to a committee of investigation or discipline, or to some standing committee to report upon. Some societies have standing committees, whose duty it is to report cases for discipline whenever any are known to them.
In either case the committee investigate the matter and report to the society. This report need not go into details, but should contain their recommendations as to what action the society should take, and should usually close with resolutions covering the case, so that there is no need for any one to offer any additional resolutions upon it. The ordinary resolutions, where the member is recommended to be expelled, are (1) to fix the time to which the society shall adjourn; and (2) to instruct the clerk to cite the member to appear before the society at this adjourned meeting to show cause why he should not be expelled, upon the following charges, which should then be given.
After charges are preferred against a member and the assembly has ordered that he be cited to appear for trial, he is theoretically under arrest, and is deprived of all the rights of membership until his case is disposed of.
The clerk should send the accused a written notice to appear before the society at the time appointed, and should at the same time furnish him with a copy of the charges. A failure to obey the summons is generally cause enough for summary expulsion.
At the appointed meeting, what may be called the trial, takes place. Frequently the only evidence required against the member is the report of the committee. After it has been read and any additional evidence offered that the committee may see fit to introduce, the accused should be allowed to make an explanation and introduce witnesses if he so desires. Either party should be allowed to cross-examine the other's witnesses and introduce rebutting testimony.
When the evidence is all in, the accused should retire from the room, and the society deliberate upon the question, and finally act by a vote upon the question of expulsion or other punishment proposed.
In acting upon the case, it must be borne in mind that there is a vast distinction between the evidence necessary to convict in a civil court and that required to convict in an ordinary society or ecclesiastical body. A notorious pickpocket could not even be arrested, much less convicted, by a civil court, simply on the ground of being commonly known as a pickpocket; while such evidence would convict and expel him from any ordinary society.
The moral conviction of the truth of the charge is all that is necessary in an ecclesiastical or other deliberative body, to find the accused guilty of the charges.
If the trial is liable to be long and troublesome, or of a very delicate nature, the member is frequently cited to appear before a committee, instead of the society, for trial. In this case the committee report to the society the result of their trial of the case, with resolutions covering the punishment which they recommend the society to adopt.