Universal Life Church
| It's not just|
a good idea
The Universal Life Church is a mail-order church (or diploma mill) that will ordain anyone as a minister for life, for no charge. They do this without regard for anyone's beliefs or lack thereof. Ask and ye shall receive.
The original Universal Life Church was founded by Kirby Hensley in 1959 and incorporated in 1962. There are currently multiple organizations operating under similar names and providing similar services.
 Marriage, State laws, and the ULC
To date, the vast majority of States require that only judges, officers of the Court, clergy, or ordained ministers have the legal right to bind two people in a marriage. Anyone who is an atheist, a free thinker, a born-again-church-hater, or who just wants their best friend to officiate is out of luck. The ULC's primary function is to provide people a back door beyond these archaic and religionistic laws. The ULC provides this service for free.
In 2001, the U.S. state of Utah attempted to ban the validity of mail-order and online ordinations for the purpose of performing marriages, specifically targeting the ULC, but when the ULC challenged this law, the court ruled in favor of ULC ordinations being valid and struck down the ban.
The need for "non religious" clergy is doubly important for states which have legalized same-sex unions. The ULC provides this service for free.
 Doctor of Divinity
Some states require that a person have a Doctor of Divinity to qualify as a chaplain, to perform funerals, and other traditionally religious societal functions. The Universal Life Church World Headquarters offers free Doctorate of Divinity degrees, while other institutions such as the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California offers them or roughly 30 dollars. The ULC offers an honorary "degree" that legally satisfies the requirements of state laws, allowing people to use the prefix Reverend Doctor (Rev Dr) or the suffix (D.D.) to their name. Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, D.D. never earned a degree, but used an honorary Doctorate of Divinity Degree . Honorary degrees are not accredited and require no academic work.
 Educational services and "money making"
The Universal Life Church offers a wide variety of minister supplies you can buy to help you become a better clergy. For those interested in performing weddings, funerals or rites may order these items. A few states require that you provide a copy of your credential and letter of good standing to register to perform weddings, but most don't. In the United States, you don't need any particular training or registration to perform funerals, but that is only true within the US. There are materials available to help you with ceremonies and courses you can take to teach you about other religions.
The ULC makes profit from ceremony materials sold, degree courses available, credentials, ID cards and other materials of interest to ministers.
 Tax shelters
In the past, some tax protesters attempted to use ULC ordinations as an excuse not to pay taxes: obtaining a free ordination, then starting a "church" with themselves as the only member, and taking a vow of "poverty" while placing their assets under the tax-exempt status of their "church". The Internal Revenue Service has cracked down on this practice, defining what constitutes a "church" (in terms on tax status) on a fourteen-point set of criteria, and now even the ULC website warns members to be cautious about their tax assessments. However, ULC ordinations and validity are recognized in many localities depending on various state and national laws.
 Attempts to bypass drug laws
Following in the footsteps of the Native American Church, which holds peyote as a sacrament, people have attempted to found churches seeking to claim a religious exemption for the use of marijuana in religious services, etc. One such church - the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu - was founded by Bernard von Nothaus, the founder of Liberty Dollar, a libertarian "alternative" currency.
 Schisms, spin-offs and rip-offs
Several rival organizations use the name Universal Life Church, or suspiciously similar terms, since the name cannot be trademarked due to the implications of the word "universal".
In 2006, the ULC split with two competing organizations now claiming the name: the Universal Life Church based in California, and the Universal Life Church Monastery based in Seattle. Both offer free ordinations via mail or online.
The Universal Life Church World Headquarters is an unaffiliated Universal Life Church.
The ULC offers an ordination service, and has proved popular with a few celebrities, including former US President Bill Clinton, who was ordained in 2010 to officiate the wedding of a couple of Democrat colleagues. Bill Clinton.
- ↑ Universal Life Church v. State of Utah, January 17th, 2002. See Universal Life Church Legal Cases.
- ↑ See this example from 1983.
- ↑ "IRS Fourteen Points" at ULC (Monastery).
- ↑ Evidenced by their ability to perform marriage in many states
- ↑ http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2009/01/06/liberty-dollar-creator-seeks-greener-grass/
- ↑ http://www.aisledash.com/2010/07/09/bill-clintons-new-role-wedding-officiant-anthony-weiner/