Joan Rivers and Universal Life Church Ordination

Discussion in 'Accreditation Discussions (RA, DETC, state approva' started by potpourri, Sep 5, 2014.

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  1. potpourri

    potpourri New Member

    There have been many discussions concerning the legality of the Universal Life Church, but the late Joan Rivers was an ordained minister of the ULC.

    She became ordained in 2013 and performed a few wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples. Many say that the organization is legal and within the rights to operate as a religious non-profit organization. In 1974, there was a case that challenged this and it was determined that the government has no right to infringe on the rights of a particular religion or to determine which is more relevant over any of them.

    A few people that I know decided as a tribute to the late Joan Rivers to become ordained through the Universal Life Church. In fact, one also purchased a Doctor of Divinity degree. They asked me what the legality of these credentials are? I told them that as far as the law was concerned they can use the title "Rev.," and to the one who received the Doctor of Divinity, they will be able to add either "Rev. Dr.," or "Rev., (there name), D.D.," as these are legally able to be used.

    They are now getting stationary and all kinds of things done to show this achievement. Now to me, they wanted me to get in on it. I told them that they have the right to do as they wish, but that I didn't think that it is right or proper to do so. What is your opinion?
     
  2. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator Staff Member

    I would advise your friends to not get carried away with all that. There is no "achievement" and everyone knows it.
     
  3. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Woah, I've been reading that she wasn't doing well, but I completely missed the news that she died yesterday.
     
  4. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    The original Universal Life Church is an actual physical church that holds weekly services. I believe it is well within people's constitutional rights to get ordained however they want and have their weddings performed by whomever they want. However, I would not brag about a Doctor of Divinity diploma purchased for $39.95.
     
  5. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    I'm sure you wouldn't. I wouldn't, either. But folks unlike us, who would actually buy such a thing...well, some of them just might. :smile:

    Johann
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 6, 2014
  6. John Bear

    John Bear Senior Member

    And then there's high school dropout Anthony Russo who ran a sex therapy clinic in upstate New York years, with no credential other than his Universal Life doctorate. Called himself "Dr. Russo," of course, and the license plate on his Cadillac was "DOCTOR1."
     
  7. Ted Heiks

    Ted Heiks Moderator and Distinguished Senior Member Staff Member

    I wonder if the Universal Life Church (unaccredited) doctorate is legal to use in Oregon.
     
  8. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    ULC's "Doctor of Divinity" degrees are unaccredited (as acknowledged by ULC itself). As with any other unaccredited degree, it would not be legal to advertise this degree in Oregon, unless:

    1. any reference to the degree was accompanied by a legal disclaimer, stating that the degree was unaccredited, or

    2. ULC obtained a religious exemption, which Oregon does offer, but which ULC does not currently have.

    However, there is a huge loophole here. While ULC does offer degrees, that's not what they are best known for. ULC is primarily known for ordaining people (like Joan Rivers) as ministers. And a "Certificate of Ordination" is not a "Degree".

    The Oregon Office of Degree Authorization only regulates degrees (as its name indicates). So if you claimed to hold a Doctor of Divinity degree from ULC, then Oregon ODA could conceivably object. But if you claimed to be an Ordained Minister with ULC, then Oregon's tough degree laws would be completely irrelevant. Claiming religious ordination is a different thing from claiming a college degree.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 6, 2014
  9. philosophy

    philosophy New Member

    I suppose that one requires some kind of interpretation on this issue of the Universal Life Church. I'm sure there will be continued discussions on the topic.

    As I see it and I'm sure that I'll get some disagreement, but it's like Voltaire quoted, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” Likewise in the same manner I must say about the Universal Life Church, it may be unorthodox the way that the ordinations and degrees are granted, but they have the protection of freedom of religion, and so I may not agree with them entirely, but I'll defend the right of them to do so. Therefore, those who do call themselves, "Reverend," or "Reverend Doctor," etc., have the right to do so under the clause of religious liberty.

    Dr. Bear gives an example of an individual calling himself a "sex therapist," and using the title of "Dr.," in that fashion. In his example, we would question the "intent" for which the individual used the credentials. It wasn't for the religious purpose as it was originally intended.

    If an individual states that they obtained an ordination and a degree from the Universal Life Church in an honest and fair manner, I don't see a problem with it as long as it's used in a religious context. If the person states that it is something other than that it is being deceitful and misleading. That's where we must draw the distinction.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014
  10. potpourri

    potpourri New Member

    Does everyone agree with what Philosophy had to say? Dr. Bear do you agree with Philosophy?
     
  11. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    There are two separate issues here:

    1. the ability of churches to confer religious titles (like Minister, Reverend, Deacon, Bishop, Imam, etc).

    2. The ability of churches to confer academic titles (like Bachelor, Master, or Doctor).

    ULC, for example, does both of these things.

    *****

    In the US, the state and federal governments have historically stayed away from the regulation of religious titles. I am not aware of any government regulations that affect churches with regard to (1), or of any attempts to create such regulations.

    Since religious titles are unregulated, there is nothing to prevent possible abuses of the system. But that's the price you pay for freedom of religion. In the same way, you may have to put up with offensive and irresponsible speech, as the price you pay for freedom of speech.

    *****

    The more interesting issue is (2), because it is generally accepted that state governments do have some power to regulate academic titles. Note that most academic degrees are secular, rather than religious. In practice, some state governments do have exemptions for religious degrees, but others do not.

    If the state requires religious degrees to meet certain secular standards, such as accreditation, is this an infringement on religious freedom? Not necessarily. In this case, the state isn't preventing unaccredited religious schools from teaching students about their religious principles -- the state is only saying that the product of such education can't be termed a "degree", unless it meets certain secular standards. The unaccredited religious school is nonetheless free to provide religious instruction however it sees it fit.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014
  12. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    There is also a third issue worth considering:

    3. The ability of churches to confer military titles (like General or Colonel).

    I don't think ULC does this. However, the Salvation Army church is well known for its use of military ranks, titles, and uniforms. Another example is the "Sea Organization", a paramilitary unit in Scientology, which uses naval ranks and uniforms.

    These organizations have a right to religious freedom, and if they want to use those titles internally, that's arguably their business. However, most people would probably question whether it is appropriate for members of such religions to claim military titles in the secular world, where such titles are generally understood to have a non-religious meaning. I suspect that most Americans would readily agree that military titles should be claimed only by active members of the military, and not by others.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014
  13. philosophy

    philosophy New Member

    CalDog, it is interesting in your post that you seem to justify the right of the Universal Life Church to issue ordinations and you conveniently used the term "religious ordination," and that somehow these should be considered different from that of a "college degree."

    I have some issue as to why you would consider a degree from the Universal Life Church to be a "college degree?" The Universal Life Church makes no claims that these are "academic" or as you state "college degrees." They make the clear distinction that ordinations, certificates, and degrees that are from them are "religious in nature." So if we are to use the "religious clause" what is the difference between an ordination and degree from the Universal Life Church if it is used strictly for "religious purposes" and for no other reason? What gives you the right to say that it's alright to issue an ordination but not a degree? Has the Universal Life Church not been upfront that it is for religious purposes and that it isn't accredited?

    Again to reference Dr. Bear in his post he doesn't challenge the fact that the Universal Life Church offers a Doctor of Divinity degree, his example was how an individual decided to use it and it was beyond the scope (intent) for which it was designed. It was to be used within a religious nature, but in this case Russo the one who used his intent to make it look as though he was a sex therapist or some professional in that manner. Was it the Universal Life Church that caused the issue or ill intent? Absolutely not. It was the individual who decided to go beyond what the original intent was which was for the degree to be used solely for religious purposes.

    People from an academic sense think of people getting a Doctor of Divinity from the Universal Life Church as being dishonest and misleading. But, again there needs to be a fine line here. Nowhere does the Universal Life Church state that this is an academic, college, or professional degree. They make it clear that it is a religious award based upon what they feel is for a specified donation to the organization. While this may seem unorthodox it is clearly spelled out that it is a religious title.

    Questions that have to be asked, "Where is the Universal Life Church being dishonest?" "Who is to determine which religious organization should have the right to give out specified titles for religious purposes?" This moves us to my other example.

    When it comes to traditional vs. nontraditional means of ordinations, certificates, and degrees -- where are we to make the judgment on which is the most proper? For example, Church A feels that when it comes to membership that it should be a year before a person can become a member. Church B feels that 6 months is plenty of time. Church C says that it could be done in 3 months. While Church D says that it can be done within a few minutes. Who is right or wrong in this scenario? Many of us would answer based upon our upbringing and how we were raised. To answer the question honestly, none are right or wrong. The most underlying theme is that freedom of religion is a right and even if one disagrees no one has the right to infringe on the rights of others including freedom of speech, the press, etc. These examples could be used for titles such as Bishop, Rabbi, Priest, and could go from those of the religious degrees that are bestowed such as Doctor of Divinity, etc.

    The other thing that I find very comical is that the very people who argue that the way that the individuals have used these credentials such as the one given by Dr. Bear in reference to Russo claiming to be a "sex therapist," and using his credential as a "Dr.," to impress others was wrong, the same people say that they send in requests to ordain their pets and use their names. I would contend that although the method maybe a little easy and unorthodox, those people who are using their pets names and making a mockery out of it are using the wrong intent and therefore neglect to see what the real purpose behind the Universal Life Church is to protect others with freedom of religion with no government interference whatsoever.

    In summary, those that compare Universal Life Church degrees with academic, college, or professional ones are missing the intended purpose. The Universal Life Church doesn't state that these are academic, college, or professional in nature. So it would be unwise to associate the degrees from Universal Life Church to be the same as an "academic, college, or professional one" such as those used for medical, judicial, or for other professional means as the Universal Life Church is used for "religious reasons." The Universal Life Church is providing a service and clearly states what its intentions are. If the recipient decides to use it other than what it was specified for the recipient has violated and there intent is beyond the scope of what it was designed to be used for. It is no different from those who falsely put down their dog as a human when this again the intent isn't how it was designed for the service. It really is the individuals involved and how they present the credentials that is the key here.

    Again it comes to the intent and motives of the individuals that are associated with the Universal Life Church. If they use the ordinations, certificates, and degrees purely for religious reasons how are they being dishonest? If one were to ask how are you a "Reverend," or "Reverend Doctor," or "Doctor?" If the individual is honest and states I got them from the Universal Life Church for religious reasons and that was their answer are they being dishonest? It may be unorthodox, but it boils down to the motive associated with it. Now if a person decides to go beyond the intent and apply for a professional job in an academic setting or beyond what the degree was intended for this individual has gone beyond the intended purpose and caused it to be used in a misleading and false way.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014
  14. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Because in the US, a degree -- by definition -- is a credential issued by a college or university.
    For example, here is the relevant definition of "degree" from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

    You are defending ULC on the grounds that they issue "non-academic degrees" or "non-college degrees".
    But in the US, those phrases are oxymorons. There is no such thing as a "non-academic degree" or a "non-college degree".

    You are free to disagree with this definition. But the posted definition accurately captures the meaning of the term "degree" as it is generally understood in the US.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014
  15. philosophy

    philosophy New Member

    I can appreciate the fact that some people can push the buttons when it comes to obtaining something. So are you saying that the person should have the right to be ordained, but when it comes to the Doctor of Divinity if an individual decides to purchase it for purely religious reasons that it is wrong? See we come to the intent and motive behind the credentials and that's what I'm trying to impress upon. We may agree that the method to which the Universal Life Church has is somewhat unorthodox. But here you too aren't questioning the ordination whatsoever. You're using a cost factor when it comes to the Doctor of Divinity, but the individual would also have to pay for the ordination. Here again, why do you feel it's perfectly acceptable for a person to have an ordination, but when it comes to the actual degree you say make it an issue? I say that it comes down to intent and motive and in this case you state that it isn't something to brag about.

    We could use the same reasoning when it comes to you paying a fee for graduating with a Doctorate degree from somewhere else. There would be some that will be all bragging and want to announce it to the whole world. So let's say that one pays $30 for a fee, and someone else pays $250. Is is the more that it costs the more it is worth? Should we really associate a price tag with it? Why is it that you mention the amount of the Doctor of Divinity, but neglect to apply the same emphasis to the ordination fee? Why is one acceptable and the other not?
     
  16. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    1. Because the titles associated with ordination are exclusively used for religious purposes. Religious activities are generally not subject to regulation in the US.

    2. Because the titles associated with degrees are commonly (and predominantly) used for secular purposes, and are subject to regulation in the US. If a school wants to issue secular titles (like "bachelor" or "master" or "doctor") in the US, then it's reasonable to expect the school to play by secular rules. Same goes for military titles, which some churches like to issue, as noted above.

    It could be argued that an unaccredited religious degree, like "Doctor of Divinity", should be exempt from regulation, as long as it is used for exclusively religious purposes. That would seem reasonable to me. However, if such a degree was used for secular purposes, then it would be subject to the same rules and regulations that apply to unaccredited degrees generally. That would also seem reasonable to me.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014
  17. philosophy

    philosophy New Member

    Caldog, it's interesting how you leave out the other definitions that are commonly associated with the word "degree" such as:
    1
    : a step or stage in a process, course, or order of classification <advanced by degrees>
    2
    a : a rank or grade of official, ecclesiastical, or social position <people of low degree>
    b archaic : a particular standing especially as to dignity or worth
    c : the civil condition or status of a person
    3
    : a step in a direct line of descent or in the line of ascent to a common ancestor
    4

    One could argue that we could take the definition as given by Merriam-Webster to be that of "a : a rank or grade of official, ecclesiastical, or social position <people of low degree>
    b archaic : a particular standing especially as to dignity or worth
    c : the civil condition or status of a person," Degree - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. I see you neglected to include them only referencing what is given as far as "academic," definition.

    Universal Life Church being a religious entity has bestowed a degree (notice the word is used vaguely) but it can encompass that of a social order. It would be no different from that of a title such as Reverend, Minister, etc. If it is purely used for religious reasons, there is nothing that implies anything academic.

    What makes the US kick a** in your definition? Is the US standard the only accepted method? Where does the UK come into play or the rest of the world?

    As far as your discussion on the Salvation Army again the title of Captain, etc., is for religious reasons. It would be the recipient that would need to specify that those are religious titles. My argument is again the motive and intent of the individual. The one who states that they obtained the title from the Salvation Army and it's for religious reasons is being honest about it. If a person decides to state other than it's intended purpose that person is being dishonest about it.
     
  18. philosophy

    philosophy New Member

    Caldog, it's interesting how you leave out the other definitions that are commonly associated with the word "degree" such as:
    1
    : a step or stage in a process, course, or order of classification <advanced by degrees>
    2
    a : a rank or grade of official, ecclesiastical, or social position <people of low degree>
    b archaic : a particular standing especially as to dignity or worth
    c : the civil condition or status of a person
    3
    : a step in a direct line of descent or in the line of ascent to a common ancestor
    4

    One could argue that we could take the definition as given by Merriam-Webster to be that of "a : a rank or grade of official, ecclesiastical, or social position <people of low degree>
    b archaic : a particular standing especially as to dignity or worth
    c : the civil condition or status of a person," Degree - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. I see you neglected to include them only referencing what is given as far as "academic," definition.

    Universal Life Church being a religious entity has bestowed a degree (notice the word is used vaguely) but it can encompass that of a social order. It would be no different from that of a title such as Reverend, Minister, etc. If it is purely used for religious reasons, there is nothing that implies anything academic.

    What makes the US kick a** in your definition? Is the US standard the only accepted method? Where does the UK come into play or the rest of the world? Incidentally I never brought up an example of the US, I merely gave the basic rights of people to express freedom of religion, speech, etc.

    As far as your discussion on the Salvation Army again the title of Captain, etc., is for religious reasons. It would be the recipient that would need to specify that those are religious titles. My argument is again the motive and intent of the individual. The one who states that they obtained the title from the Salvation Army and it's for religious reasons is being honest about it. If a person decides to state other than it's intended purpose that person is being dishonest about it.
     
  19. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    Law enforcement/correctional agencies and security companies also use military titles and military-style uniforms.

    I'm saying it's not something to brag about. Many people purchase ULC's ordination for practical purposes. Most states tell you that either need to be married by a public official or an ordained clergyperson of a religion. I believe this encroaches on freedom of religion, and a few judges have agreed. Some states have allowed people to officiate weddings after becoming registered notaries, but this is still not an option in most states. A ULC ordination is still not something to brag about, but at least it serves a purpose. Purchasing a Doctor of Divinity serves no purpose whatsoever. You didn't learn anything obtaining it, and it's not necessary for religious practices. If you want to become a chaplain or something else that is semi-regulated, a purchased degree is not going to cut it.


    You don't need to associate a price tag with an accredited doctorate or even an unaccredited doctorate that required work. The work that went into earning the doctorate is what gives it its value.

    I pretty much agree with what CalDog said; however, it is my understanding that at least some of the ULC offshoots make it clear that it's an honorary degree.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014
  20. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    In the US, the titles of bachelor, master and doctor are associated with academic degrees. If ULC wants to issues "degrees" that signify some kind of non-academic rank or grade, then it would seem more appropriate for them to use non-academic titles.

    Since both ULC and degreeinfo are based in the US, it should not be surprising that discussion focuses on US rules. This does not imply that the rules of other countries are of no interest, just that we know less about them.

    But if this point concerns you, why not ask ULC itself ? The answer, according to ULC, is that some other countries have more stringent rules about ordination and degrees than the US does, and so they are less likely to accept ULC credentials:

    So the UK -- as well as Canada and Australia -- apparently regard ULC ordination as worthless. That may or may not be the case in other countries.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2014

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