A censure (play /ˈsɛnʃər/) is an expression of strong disapproval or harsh criticism.[1] Among the forms that it can take are a stern rebuke by a legislature, a spiritual penalty imposed by a church, and a negative judgment pronounced on a theological proposition.



In politics, a censure is an alternative to more serious measures against misconduct or dereliction of duty.[2][3]

Requires second? Yes
Debatable? Yes
Amendable? Yes
Vote required: Majority


Censure is an action by the House of Commons or the Senate rebuking the actions or conduct of an individual. The power to censure is not directly mentioned in the constitutional texts of Canada but is derived from the powers bestowed upon both Chambers through section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867. A motion of censure can be introduced by any Member of Parliament or Senator and passed by a simple majority for censure to be deemed to have been delivered. In addition, if the censure is related to the privileges of the Chamber, the individual in question could be summoned to the bar of the House or Senate (or, in the case of a sitting member, to that member's place in the chamber) to be censured, and could also face other sanctions from the house, including imprisonment. Normally, censure is exclusively an on-the-record rebuke — it is not equivalent to a motion of no confidence, and a prime minister can continue in office even if censured.

Louis Riel faced Parliamentary censure for his role in the Red River Rebellion, and was expelled from Parliament April 16, 1874.[4]

United States

Censure is the public reprimanding of a public official for inappropriate behavior. When the president is censured, it serves merely as a condemnation and has no direct effect on the validity of presidency, nor are there any other particular legal consequences. Unlike impeachment, censure has no basis in the Constitution or in the rules of the Senate and House of Representatives. It derives from the formal condemnation of either congressional body of their own members.

Explanation and use

The motion to censure is an exception to the general rule that "a motion must not use language that reflects on a member's conduct or character, or is discourteous, unnecessarily harsh, or not allowed in debate."[5] Demeter's Manual notes, "It is a reprimand, aimed at reformation of the person and prevention of further offending acts."[3] While there are many possible grounds for censuring members of an organization, such as embezzlement, absenteeism, drunkenness, and so on, DEM notes that the grounds for censuring a presiding officer are more limited:[6]

Serious grounds for censure against presiding officers (presidents, chairmen, etc.) are, in general: arrogation or assumption by the presiding officer of dictatorial powers – powers not conferred upon him by law – by which he harasses, embarrasses and humiliates members; or, specifically: (1) he refuses to recognize members entitled to the floor; (2) he refuses to accept and to put canonical motions to vote; (3) he refuses to entertain appropriate appeals from his decision; (4) he ignores proper points of order; (5) he disobeys the bylaws and the rules of order; (6) he disobeys the assembly's will and substitutes his own; (7) he denies to members the proper exercise of their constitutional or parliamentary rights.

More serious disciplinary procedures may involve fine, suspension, or expulsion. In some cases, the assembly may declare the chair vacant and elect a new chair; or a motion can be made to rescind the election of an officer.[7]

For examples specific to the United States, see Censure in the United States.


If the motion is made to censure the presiding officer, then he must relinquish the chair to the vice-president until the motion is disposed of;[8] but during this time, the vice-president is still referred to as "Mr. Vice President" in debate, since a censure is merely a warning and not a proceeding that removes the president from the chair.[9] An officer being censured is not referred to by name in the motion, but simply as "the president," "the treasurer," etc.

After a motion to censure is passed, the chair (or the vice-president, if the presiding officer is being censured) addresses the censured member by name. He may say something to the effect of, "Brother F, you have been censured by vote of the assembly. A censure indicates the assembly's resentment of your conduct at meetings. A censure is a warning. It is the warning voice of suspension or expulsion. Please take due notice thereof and govern yourself accordingly." Or, if the chair is being censured, the vice-president may say, "Mr. X, you have been censured by the assembly for the reasons contained in the resolution. I now return to you the presidency."[10]


To date, Andrew Jackson is the only sitting President to be successfully censured, although his censure was subsequently expunged from official records. [11]

On December 2, 1954, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin was censured by the United States Senate for failing to cooperate with the subcommittee that was investigating him, and for insults to the committee that was trying to censure him.

On June 10, 1980, Democratic Representative Charles H. Wilson from California was censured by the House of Representatives for "financial misconduct," as a result of the "Koreagate" scandal of 1976. "Koreagate" was an American political scandal involving South Koreans seeking influence with members of Congress. An immediate goal seems to have been reversing President Richard Nixon's decision to withdraw troops from South Korea. It involved the KCIA (now the National Intelligence Service) funneling bribes and favors through Korean businessman Tongsun Park in an attempt to gain favor and influence. Some 115 members of Congress were implicated.

On July 20, 1983, Representatives Dan Crane, a Republican from Illinois, and Gerry Studds, a Democrat from Massachusetts, were censured by the House of Representatives for their involvement in the 1983 Congressional page sex scandal.[12]

On July 12, 1999, the U.S. House of Representatives censured (in a 355-to-0 vote) a scientific publication titled "A Meta-analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples," by Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovich, and Robert Bauserman; (see Rind et al. controversy) which was published in the American Psychological Association's "Psychological Bulletin (July 1998).[13]

On July 31, 2007, retired Army General Philip Kensinger was censured by The United States Army. The censure came after misleading investigators of the Pat Tillman death in 2004.[14]

On July 6, 2009, Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was censured by the state GOP executive committee for traveling overseas on tax payer funds to visit his mistress.[15]

On October 13, 2009, Mayor of Sheboygan, WI Bob Ryan was censured due to a YouTube video that showed him making sexually vulgar comments about his sister-in-law taken at a bar on a cell phone.[16] The censure was voted 15-0 by the Sheboygan Common Council.

On December 2, 2010, Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel from the state of New York was censured after an ethics panel found he violated House rules, specifically failing to pay taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic, improperly soliciting charitable donations, and running a campaign office out of a rent-stabilized apartment meant for residential use.

Roman Catholic Church

Canon law

In canon law, a censure is a medicinal penalty[17] imposed primarily for the purpose of breaking contumacy and reintegrating the offender in the community.[18]

The ecclesiastical censures are excommunication and interdict, which can be imposed on any member of the Church, and suspension, which only affects clerics.[19]

Theological censure

A theological censure is a doctrinal judgment by which a Church stigmatizes certain teachings detrimental to faith or morals.[20][21][22]

That they are directed at teachings distinguishes them from canonical censures, which are spiritual punishments imposed on people.

Specific theological censures are divided into three groups according as they bear principally upon (1) the import, or (2) the expression, or (3) the consequences, of condemned propositions.

  1. A proposition is branded heretical when it goes directly and immediately against a revealed or defined dogma, or dogma de fide; erroneous when it contradicts only a certain (certa) theological conclusion or truth clearly deduced from two premises, one an article of faith, the other naturally certain.
  2. A proposition is ambiguous when it is worded so as to present two or more senses, one of which is objectionable; captious when acceptable words are made to express objectionable thoughts; evil-sounding when improper words are used to express otherwise acceptable truths; offensive when verbal expression is such as rightly to shock the Catholic sense and delicacy of faith.
  3. In the third category fall Subsannativa religionis (derisive of religion), decolorativa canodris ecclesiæ (defacing the beauty of the Church), subversiva hierarchiæ (subversive of the hierarchy), eversiva regnorum (destructive of governments), scandelosa, perniciosa, periculosa in moribus (scandalous, pernicious, dangerous to morals), blasphema, idolatra, superstisiosa, magica (blasphemous, leading to idolatry, superstition, sorcery), arrogans, acerba (arrogant, harsh), etc. This enumeration, though incomplete, sufficiently draws the aim of the third group of censures; they are directed against such propositions as would imperil religion in general, the Church's sanctity, unity of government and hierarchy, civil society, morals in general, or the virtue of religion, Christian meekness, and humility in particular.

See also


  1. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English language
  2. ^ Robert, Henry M. (2000). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th ed., p. 642 (RONR)
  3. ^ a b Demeter, George (1969). Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, Blue Book, p. 260 (Demeter)
  4. ^ Murray Brewster (February 3, 2010). "http://www.metronews.ca/toronto/canada/article/441938--will-we-hear-of-this-in-day-to-come". Canadian Press; republished by Metro News, Toronto. http://www.metronews.ca/toronto/canada/article/441938--will-we-hear-of-this-in-day-to-come. Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  5. ^ RONR, p. 333
  6. ^ Demeter, p. 261
  7. ^ RONR, pp. 642-643
  8. ^ RONR, p. 436
  9. ^ Demeter, p. 263
  10. ^ Demeter, p. 264
  11. ^ "U.S. Senate: Art & History Home > Historical Minutes > 1801-1850 > Senate Censures President". http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Senate_Censures_President.htm. Retrieved 2006-04-01. 
  12. ^ Committee on Standards of Official Conduct[dead link]
  13. ^ "Skeptical Inquirer" Vol.24, No.1 Jan/Feb 2000 p20,1 Kenneth K. Berry & Jason Berry "The Congressional Censure of a Research Paper: Return of the Inquisition?" http://www.csicop.org/si/2000-01/index.html
  14. ^ Neil A. Lewis (2007-08-01). "Retired General is Censured for Role in Tillman Case". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/01/us/01tillman.html. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  15. ^ By Peter Hamby CNN Political Producer (2009-07-07). "South Carolina GOP votes to censure Sanford". CNN.com. http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/07/07/south.carolina.sanford.censure/index.html. Retrieved 2009-12-15. 
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 1312
  18. ^ John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green (editors), New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press 2002 ISBN 9780809140664), p. 1534
  19. ^ Code of Canon Law, canons 1331-1335
  20. ^ John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary
  21. ^ Joseph Sollier, "Theological Censures" in Catholic Encyclopedia 1908
  22. ^ Pierre W. Whalon, Review of "Grace and Necessity" by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams

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  • CENSURE — En 1828, à une époque où l’on se plaignait amèrement des méfaits de la censure, Benjamin Constant en a fourni une excellente définition: «La censure, violation insolente de nos droits, assujettissement de la partie éclairée de la nation à sa… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • censure — cen·sure / sen chər/ n: an expression of official disapproval a House resolution approving a censure of the representative censure vt Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996 …   Law dictionary

  • censure — CENSURE. s. f. Correction, répréhension. Soumettre ses écrits à la censure de quelqu un. Subir la censure de quelqu un. Souffrir la censure. S exposer à la censure.Censure, se dit aussi en matière de Dogme, d Un Jugement qui porte condamnation.… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • censure — Censure. s. f. Correction, reprehension. Je soûmets mes escrits & mes actions à vostre censure. subir la censure de quelqu un. souffrir la censure. s exposer à la censure. Il signifie aussi, Le jugement & la condamnation d un livre. La censure… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Censure — Cen sure, n. [L. censura fr. censere: cf. F. censure. Cf. {Censor}.] 1. Judgment either favorable or unfavorable; opinion. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] Take each man s censure, but reserve thy judgment. Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. The act of blaming or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • censure — Ⅰ. censure UK US /ˈsensjər/ US  /ˈsenʃər/ noun [U] FORMAL ► strong criticism or disapproval: »The former brokers, charged with selling unsuitable investments, face censure and fines of $10,000 each. Ⅱ. censure UK US /ˈsensjər/ US  /ˈsenʃər/ verb… …   Financial and business terms

  • Censure — Cen sure, v. i. [imp. & p. p. {Censured}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Censuring}.] [Cf. F. ensurer.] 1. To form or express a judgment in regard to; to estimate; to judge. [Obs.] Should I say more, you might well censure me a flatterer. Beau. & Fl. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • censure — [n] severe criticism admonishment, admonition, blame, castigation, condemnation, disapproval, dressing down, objection, obloquy, rebuke, remonstrance, reprehension, reprimand, reproach, reproof, stricture; concepts 52,410 Ant. approval,… …   New thesaurus

  • Censure — Cen sure, v. i. To judge. [Obs.] Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • censuré — censuré, ée (san su ré, rée) part. passé. Opinion malsonnante et censurée par l Église …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • censure — CENSURE: Utile, on a beau dire …   Dictionnaire des idées reçues

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