The Rev. Richard Kelley (81) and his wife, Mary Ann (72), were "suspended" as members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Southern Maryland in May 2007, and barred from all participation in the UU religious community under threat of arrest, due to a failure to resolve "right relations issues." To all intents and purposes, they were "excommunicated," though the UU faith contains no such provision.

The Rev. Mr. Kelley has been an ordained UU clergy person for some 53 years, having retired to St. Mary's County 16 years ago, and a member of that faith for over 60 years. The Kelleys were founding members of the UUFSM in 1993. A number of strict requirements for their reinstatement after one year were enunciated in the certified letter sent the Kelleys which they indicated they had no intention of meeting.

Subsequently, the UUFSM congregation at its June 2007 annual business meeting refused to support the minister and Board in their disciplinary actions and authoritarian approach, and the congregation split into two separate groups (see related news item elsewhere). Although traditionally UU congregations are "creedless" with no required doctrines or rules of conduct, the UUFSM Board asserted that living "by the Unitarian Universalist Principles in all your actions (is) a minimum requirement for membership in our Fellowship." Nothing to this effect appears in any of the founding documents of the organization, and the by-laws of UUFSM did not provide for any such expulsion at that time. (The "Principles" referred to are contained in the Principles and Purposes of the UUA with which the Fellowship is affiliated, but are not required of member organizations.)

After the split in the society, those members remaining with the UUFSM adopted by-law changes that provide for the punishment of "misconduct," including trial before the congregation and expulsion or suspension. However, the definition of "misconduct" is not provided, leaving it up to the Board and its instruments to provide the "indictment" and its justification. The Board then refers the matter to a congregation trial where the accused persons have an opportunity to defend themselves before the membership votes on their expulsion.

In a letter to the UUFSM Board, the Kelleys in resigning their membership stated: ".... to the best of our knowledge, we have never been members of any UU religious organization where the congregation presumed to sit in judgment of individual members as to the propriety of their beliefs or values, their voiced opinions or personal conduct, and to remove them from membership in the congregation on such a basis. Such judgmental practices have always been abhorrent to us, and contrary to what we have experienced as the free and open spirit of Unitarian Universalism. Obviously, .... the UUFSM congregation has chosen a different path, unanimously."

As of this writing in February 2008, the present UUFSM Board still stands by the original action of the older Board, and has yet to negate its actions.