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After the annual reports and routine updates at the 2010 Central Midwest District Annual meeting, Rev. Roger Brewin took the microphone to make a motion that the delegates of our district send a signal to the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) by encouraging them to consider moving the location of the 2012 General Assembly (GA) out of Phoenix to protest that state’s repressive new law on immigration.

According to Arizona law SB1070,  police would be required to ask any person already detained for proof of legal residence if police had a “reasonable suspicion” that the detained person could be in the country illegally, which will inevitably lead to racial profiling. This law also allows officers to arrest anyone if they have “probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.” In addition, the Arizona law allows private citizens to bring lawsuits against officials or agencies that they believe are not enforcing the law to its fullest extent and even implicate legal residents who transport or “harbor” undocumented friends or relatives as additional violators of the law.

Kimberly Hampton, from First Unitarian in St. Louis, who is also a member of the GA Planning Committee for the Unitarian Universalist Association, told the delegates that the Planning Committee was already looking at options for 2012, including the possibility of moving the venue, but there would be substantial financial penalties for pulling out of Phoenix at this point because of signed contracts.

Delegate Nina Grey (from First Unitarian in Chicago) spoke in favor of the motion, reminding all of the delegates about issues which were raised by the 2008 GA held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where everyone was required to show an ID upon arrival at the conference center. While many Unitarian Universalists opted to just stay home and boycott GA with their absence, Nina said that she traveled to Fort Lauderdale and protested by standing outside the gate and refusing to enter. She said the motion under consideration did not recommend specific action on demonstrating against the law, only that we strongly encourage the UUA Board to consider pulling out of Phoenix for the upcoming General Assembly.

DA2010_027Finley Campbell, another delegate from First Unitarian in Chicago, addressed the delegates next, saying that all boycotts are different and each one should be evaluated on the particular merits of the issue worth protesting.  He suggested that the most effective way to protest this issue was to go to Phoenix, and by our huge presence make a statement and public demonstration against this racist law.

The motion passed overwhelmingly by the delegates of the Central Midwest District and then the recommendation was submitted to the UUA Board of Trustees for consideration. The final wording of the resolution encouraged the Trustees to take “all necessary steps to ensure that appropriate pressure is promptly brought to bear on the political and business leadership in Arizona to reverse this situation, including a re-examination of the plans to hold the 2012 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in the city of Phoenix.”

Since the resolution passed at the Central Midwest District Annual meeting, the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association met via conference call and voted to ask the General Assembly as a whole to consider moving the 2012 GA to another venue. Delegates to the upcoming General Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota will have to approve the measure with a two-thirds majority in order to approve the measure. 

However, this action will not come cheap.  Since General Assembly in Minneapolis won’t begin until June 23rd, this will not allow a timely withdrawal and could cost the Association a large chunk of money. According to Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tim Brennan, the UUA could be subject to penalties of up to $615,000 if the contracts with Phoenix hotels and conference center are cancelled after June 15.  The Board of Trustees also recognizes that the possibility exists of losing money even if GA is still held in Phoenix, since attendance was down significantly for the 2008 General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale in part because of boycotts of the security restrictions which were imposed upon delegates and attendees coming and going to the convention center by the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier, in a statement released by the President’s office, UUA President Peter Morales stated emphatically that, “Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 undermines everything our nation stands for. Under the provisions of this law, members of my own extended family could be targeted and detained, even though we have been American citizens for generations.”

If the vote does mean changing the location of the 2012 General Assembly, this will not be the first time this has happened. In fact, the UUA has once before pulled a General Assembly out of Phoenix, back in 1988, when the state refused to adopt Martin Luther King Day as a holiday. Arizona has since begun observing the holiday, and following that passage, the UUA held the 1997 GA in Phoenix.

Registration for this summer’s General Assembly in Minneapolis is still available under late registration rates and will remain open until June 27, but only delegates from certified member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association will be allowed to vote on the measure to move the 2012 GA.   All certified congregations are allotted one delegate for every 50 members, with at least two delegates granted to every congregation. Delegates are determined by the church they are sent to represent (not the UUA) and must present their signed credentials at the credentialing station in order to be issued a delegate ribbon and voting card.

Additional delegates to GA may include ministers in full or associate fellowship and employed by certified congregations, community ministers with active involvement and affiliation, retired ministers and religious educators credentialed at the Master Level of the Religious Education Credentialing Program.