Friday, January 14, 2011

Georgia Supreme Court to Hear Christ Church Case

The Supreme Court of Georgia announced in an order yesterday that it had accepted the petition of Christ Church in Savannah to review the adverse decision last summer by the Georgia Court of Appeals. That decision was followed by a seemingly inconsistent one in favor of a withdrawing church in another case, as I noted in this post. Because of the different standards applied by two different panels of the Court of Appeals, there appears to be uncertain law in Georgia with regard to the continued validity of implied trusts for religious purposes, and review by the Supreme Court should establish some uniformity.

Christ Church Savannah has published a statement on its Website with more details and quotations; there is also an article based on an interview with Christ Church's pastor here. The case should be briefed by late spring, with oral arguments probably in the fall or winter. A final decision might not issue until next year.

This is good news for Christ Church Savannah, as the highest courts of a State accept cases for review only when they want to change or modify the result below, and lay down the law for other State courts to follow in doing so. For ECUSA and the Diocese of Georgia, of course, it means more and more dollars laid out in defense of that Trojan horse, the Dennis Canon.

Note for Fort Worth watchers: The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and Bishop Jack Iker have released the following statement about today's hearing before Judge John Chupp:
Court holds Summary Judgment hearing
in original case against Diocese, Corporation

Almost 21 months to the day after the initial suit was filed, today the parties have presented the court with their arguments and claims to the property of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its Corporation. In a two-hour hearing of the 141st District Court, Judge John Chupp said the case came down to the two essential questions that he had asked at the first hearing, in September 2009: Did the Diocese have the right to vote and leave The Episcopal Church (TEC)? and, What do the property deeds say about ownership? Throughout the morning, the judge's questions and comments to the attorneys for both sides continued to probe those questions.

The plaintiffs in the suit are TEC and local Episcopal parties who were in the minority when the Diocese voted to separate from TEC in 2008. Their representatives argued that once a parish joins TEC, “you are subject irrevocably to The Episcopal Church” and that the General Convention's canons are “silent” on the subject of a diocese separating from the larger body because “it is inconceivable.” Ownership of property, one attorney argued, “is an ecclesiastical question.”

Representatives for the Diocese, Corporation, and the intervening parishes warned the judge that “other states have some crazy statutes,” but that Texas law does not permit a trust to be imposed on another person's property without written consent, that no trust is irrevocable unless that is expressly stated, and that non-profit corporations, such as the one that holds the property of the Diocese, are entitled to select their own officers without having them removed at the whim of others. To rule in favor of the plaintiffs, therefore, would be to “declare Texas trust law unconstitutional” and throw into question the legal status of virtually every church property in the state.

Present in the court room was David Booth Beers, counsel to TEC's Presiding Bishop, who had threatened diocesan leaders with discipline as early as 2006. Also present were over 100 clergy and lay people of the Diocese, ready to testify if called upon. However, the issue they came to address – a legal challenge to the authority of the Diocese's counsel – was not heard. Though the plaintiffs' counsel initiated the charge, upon gathering in the court room, they asked for its deferral. The judge expressed his concern for those who had traveled considerable distance and taken time to be present.

Bishop Iker thanks the legal team for their hard work preparing and presenting our case. He extends his gratitude to those who were present at the hearing, and to all those who undertook a time of prayer and fasting. Please continue to pray for wisdom for Judge Chupp as he weighs the arguments before him. A ruling is not expected before next week, at the earliest.
The good judge appears to have penetrated ECUSA's fog of black ink, and gotten to the heart of the matter. Those indeed are the questions at stake: "Did the Diocese have the right to vote and leave The Episcopal Church (TEC)? and, What do the property deeds say about ownership?" If he keeps his focus on the evidence offered pro and con on both those issues, he should reach the right decision.

Oh, and note ECUSA's new mantra on why its Constitution is silent on the ability of dioceses to withdraw their affiliation to the denomination: it is not because any provision attempting to restrict that right would violate the First Amendment's right of association, but the language is absent because such an act is "inconceivable."

No doubt; certain minds at ECUSA find it inconceivable that a diocese might not want to play the game by their "rules", which are bent, broken and trampled at will.


  1. Potentially more good news.... unless you are a supporter of TECUSA "scorched earth" policy of the Dennis Canon. Perhaps the Dennis canon is not as sturdy as its supporters once thought ? Look forward to the update in Ft. Worth as well

  2. [Vizzini has just cut the rope The Dread Pirate Roberts is climbing up]
    Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.