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The Universal Life Church (ULC) is a non-denominational religious organization founded on a simple doctrine, "Do that which is right," and states that every person has the natural right (and the responsibility) to peacefully determine what is right.[3] Universal Life Church is an advocate of religious freedom and offers legal ordination to become a minister free of charge.[4] The ordination process states that anyone can become a minister by filling out a form that includes a legal name and valid address to be entered into the church records. Ordained ministers are eligible to receive an ordination credential which is a legal document.

Universal Life Church
Universal Life Church logo.png
Leader Andre Hensley
Region Worldwide
Headquarters Modesto, California[1]
Founder Kirby J. Hensley
Origin May 2, 1962
Modesto, California
Members 18,000,000+[2][dubious ]
Official website



The Universal Life Church was founded under the name "Life Church" in 1959 by the Reverend Kirby J. Hensley, who first held services for the church out of his garage.[5] Disappointed with the Pentecostal church, Hensley decided to venture on his own to find his religion. After five years of studying various religions, Hensley concluded that "the proper religion may differ for each person, and everyone is entitled to choose one's own religion. No one should be criticized or condemned for wanting to practice the beliefs of one's choice." Hensley incorporated the Universal Life Church with Co-Founder and (then) Vice President Lewis Ashmore in Modesto, California, on May 2, 1962.[5] Hensley served as minister of the congregation and was President of the Board of Directors until his death on March 19, 1999. His wife, Lida, was subsequently elected president of the church and held the position until her death on December 31, 2006.[6]

On January 14, 2007, the ULC Board of Directors elected Hensley's son, Andre Hensley as the church President. Hensley previously held the position of office manager of Modesto Headquarters.[7]

As of early 2009, ULC was sending out between 8,500 and 10,000 ordination certificates each month. Between 1962 and 2008, it sent out almost 18 million worldwide.[8]


Since its inception, the Universal Life Church has come into legal conflicts over such issues as the validity of ordinations and the tax-exempt status of the organization. In the 1964 case of Universal Life Church Inc. vs. United States of America, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled that the Court would not "praise or condemn a religion, however excellent or fanatical or preposterous it may seem," as "to do so . . . would impinge on the guarantees of the First Amendment . . ."[9] All subsequent cases have ruled in favor of Universal Life Church as a legal and valid church establishment. The United States military chaplain's handbook lists ULC as a recognized church.[10]

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sued in the 1970s, arguing the ULC was not considered a religious group. The lawsuits were settled in 2000 with the church paying $1.5 million in back taxes.[11] The IRS has ruled in some years, but not in others, that the church was tax exempt, depending on whether the organization had filed its required annual statements in those years.[12] Most states recognize the church as a legal entity by extending recognition to its ministers.[13] Not all states recognize the ULC as a nonprofit organization; therefore, it is up to each minister to determine his or her legal standing. The ULC assists its ministers who experience problems with being recognized in their home state or country.[12]

In 2001, the state of Utah passed legislation banning ordinations via the internet. Subsequently, the ULC filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this legislation, and in 2002 a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of ULC on the grounds that online ordination is no different than ordination over the phone, by fax, or in person, various methods of ordination allowed under this legislation.[14]

According to the organization's website, a legally binding marriage officiated by a ULC minister requires a declaration of intent and pronouncement. ULC licenses also allow ministers to perform baptisms and funerals as well as the option to legally start their own organizations.[15][16]


Their one creed (or doctrine) is stated as: "Do that which is right."[17] The ULC's stated beliefs are:[18]

  • Objective: Eternal Progression.
  • Goal: A Fuller Life for Everyone.
  • Slogan: To Live and Help Live.
  • Maxim: "We Are One."

Any person may associate themselves with the Church and apply for ordination as a minister upon agreement with its doctrine. The Universal Life Church does not issue ministerial certificates to individuals who are currently incarcerated, but any other person may be ordained as a minister.[19]


Several charter churches and other denominations are or were associated with the ULC.

Founded in 1977, the Seattle, Washington-based Universal Life Church Monastery[20] is an offshoot of the ULC helmed by president George Freeman, and known primarily for its online ordination program, established in 1995.[21] The monastery has not been affiliated with the ULC since 2006.[22]

ULC OnlineEdit

Based in Folsom, California, Universal Life Church Online (ULC Online) is authorized by Modesto Headquarters to handle official church-related business. The site accepts ordination applications, offers ministry supplies, hosts a prayer board, and operates a page to submit confessions.

ULC SeminaryEdit

A charter church operated by individual ministers of the ULC, the “Universal Life Seminary”[23] offers courses elaborating a variety of spiritual and religious perspectives, while welcoming and affirming people of all belief systems.[24]

Shrine of the Irish OakEdit

The “Shrine of the Irish Oak” is a small Pagan temple dedicated to a syncretistic blend of Celtic and Roman polytheism, was founded in 2004 as a incorporated church in the state of Arkansas.[25] They officially chartered under the ULC of Modesto in 2013, and has remained in good stating with ULC H.Q in Modesto .[26][27]

Dallas Universal Life ChurchEdit

Dallas Universal Life Church is a modern nondenominational Christian church that promotes itself as a community of doers rather than talkers.[28]

Authority to solemnize marriageEdit

A large number of people seeking ULC ordination do so in order to be able to legally officiate at weddings[4] or perform other spiritual rites. This aspect of the ULC has provided relief to interfaith couples or same-sex couples experiencing difficulty in getting their union performed in a religious atmosphere. Some people living in remote areas also use their status as ordained ULC ministers to meet the marriage officiant needs of their communities. Thus far, the only state in which the highest court has recognized the power of a minister of the Universal Life Church to solemnize marriages is Mississippi.[29] Some states allow anyone to solemnize a marriage.[30] In states in which Universal Life Church ministers are not authorized to solemnize marriages, the solemnization of a marriage by a minister of the Universal Life Church (who is not otherwise authorized) may result in the validity of the marriage being questioned.[31]

United StatesEdit

In the United States, the requirements for entering into marriage are determined by state law. Courts in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia have ruled that, under applicable state law, ULC ministers are not authorized to solemnize marriages and a marriage at which a ULC minister officiated therefore is not valid.[32] North Carolina law subsequently was amended to validate marriages performed by ministers of the Universal Life Church prior to July 3, 1981,[33] and marriages solemnized by a ULC minister after that date are voidable, although equitable estoppel may prevent the parties themselves from challenging the marriage.[34] A more recent New York court ruling, from a different appellate court, ruled that it is a factual question whether the ULC is a "church" whose ministers have authority under New York law to solemnize a marriage;[35] on remand, the plaintiff offered no evidence, and the New York Supreme Court, which in New York is a trial court, accepted the defendant's evidence that the ULC fits the statutory definition of a "church" and the parties' marriage, performed by one of its authorized ministers, was valid.[36] However, that holding is not binding on other courts. A New York County trial judge stated in 2014 that marriages performed by ULC ministers in New York State are potentially invalid or at the very least in jeopardy.[37] The Supreme Court of Mississippi has ruled that Mississippi has a less restrictive statute and recognizes ULC ministers as able to perform valid marriages in that state.[29] Lower courts in Pennsylvania have split on the issue.[38] In the opinion of the Tennessee Attorney General, persons ordained by the ULC are not qualified under Tennessee law to solemnize a marriage.[39]


In Canada, ULC ministers are currently not authorized to solemnize marriage in any province or territory.[40] In countries where ULC ministers have no authority to solemnize lawful marriage, ministers must meet other requirements which might include registering as a notary public, justice of the peace or marriage commissioner.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Contact Universal Life Church". Modesto, CA: Universal Life Church. Retrieved 28 January 2018. 
  2. ^ "". 
  3. ^ "Doctrine of Religious Freedom". 
  4. ^ a b Samuel Freedman (26 June 2015). "Couples Personalizing Role of Religion in Wedding Ceremonies". 
  5. ^ a b Ashmore, Lewis (1977), The Modesto messiah: The famous mail-order minister, Universal Press, ISBN 0-918950-01-5 
  6. ^ "Universal Life Church Founder and Current President". 
  7. ^ "Welcome to the official website for Universal Life Church, International Headquarters". Archived from the original on December 6, 2011. 
  8. ^ Sue Nowicki (March 7, 2009). "Universal Life Goes On; Andre Hensley brings own beliefs to late father's church". Modesto Bee. Archived from the original on March 27, 2009. 
  9. ^ "United States District Court, E.D. California. Universal Life Church, Inc., Plaintiff, v. United States of America, Defendant. Civ. No S-1954" (PDF). United States District Court For the Eastern District of California. March 1, 1974. 
  10. ^ "RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENTS AND PRACTICES table of contents chaplain CH". Archived from the original on June 3, 2001. 
  11. ^ Sankin, Andrew (3 April 2015). "Inside the Universal Life Church, the internet's one true religion". The Week. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  12. ^ a b "Welcome to the official website for Universal Life Church, InternationalHeadquarters". 
  13. ^ "ULCOnline Forum". Retrieved 2016-01-02. 
  14. ^ "Universal Life Church v. Utah, 189 F. Supp. 2d 1302 - Dist. Court, D. Utah 2002". Google Scholar. 17 January 2002. 
  15. ^ "Read This Before Officiating A Wedding For Your Friends". Refinery 29. 9 August 2017. 
  16. ^ "New Millennial Weddings Trend Sees Spike In Universal Life Ministers". International Business Times. 2 August 2017. 
  17. ^ "A textbook about the Universal Life Church", Modesto, CA: Universal Life Church, 1992, rev. 2005, p. 8
  18. ^ "Welcome to the official website for Universal Life Church". Universal Life Church. Archived from the original on December 6, 2011. Retrieved December 6, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Universal Life Church, founded 1959 in Modesto - Official Site - Become Ordained". 
  20. ^ "Universal Life Church Monastery Official Site". 
  21. ^ "Chapel Bound: Getting Ordained Online". Wall Street Journal. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "UNIVERSAL LIFE CHURCH - ULC - Get Ordained". 
  24. ^ "Statement of Beliefs Site". 
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ "The Shrine of the Irish Oak ULC, Chapel of Gaul & Brigantia". Retrieved 2015-10-05. 
  28. ^ "Dallas Universal Life Church". Dallas Universal Life Church. Dallas Universal Life Church, Inc. Retrieved 26 June 2017. 
  29. ^ a b In re Blackwell, 531 So. 2d 1193 (Miss. 1988).
  30. ^ Center for Inquiry v. Marion Circuit Court Clerk, No. 12-3751 (7th Cir. July 14, 2014).
  31. ^ Oswald v. Oswald, 2013 N.Y. Slip Op. 02811 (N.Y. App. Div. 2013); Ranieri v. Ranieri, 539 N.Y.S.2d 382 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989); State v. Lynch, 272 S.E.2d 349 (N.C. 1980); Cramer v. Commonwealth, 202 S.E.2d 911 (Va. 1974); Robert E. Rains, Marriage in the Time of Internet Ministers: I Now Pronounce You Married, But Who Am I To Do So?, 64 U. Miami L. Rev. 809, 830 - 34 (2010).
  32. ^ Ranieri v. Ranieri, 539 N.Y.S.2d 382 (N.Y. App. Div. 1989); State v. Lynch, 272 S.E.2d 349 (N.C. 1980); Cramer v. Commonwealth, 202 S.E.2d 911 (Va. 1974).
  33. ^ Chapter 51, N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 51-1.1 (2007).
  34. ^ Duncan v. Duncan, 754 S.E.2d 451 (N.C. Ct. App. 2014).
  35. ^ Oswald v. Oswald, 2013 N.Y. Slip Op. 02811 (N.Y. App. Div. 2013).
  36. ^ Oswald v. Oswald, RJI No. 57-1-2011-0389 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. June 9, 2016).
  37. ^ Ponorovskaya v. Stecklow, 2014 NY Slip Op 24140 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2014).
  38. ^ Robert E. Rains, Marriage in the Time of Internet Ministers: I Now Pronounce You Married, But Who Am I To Do So?, 64 U. Miami L. Rev. 809, 830 - 34 (2010).
  39. ^ Tenn. Op. Att'y Gen. 15-14 (Feb. 6, 2015).
  40. ^ "Wedding Laws By State". Universal Life Church Online. Retrieved January 10, 2018. As of this writing, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia do NOT permit ULC ministers to officiate legal marriage ceremonies. 

External linksEdit