There have been a number of important appellate briefs filed with various courts this week. In my previous post, I wrote about the two petitions for certiorari (review) filed with the United States Supreme Court, to raise the Dennis Canon issue in conjunction with an earlier petition filed by Timberridge Presbytery of Atlanta on a similar question.
Now comes word that Bishop Jack Iker's Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has filed its reply brief in the case it has pending before the Supreme Court of Texas. The filing of that document completes the briefing in the case, and in due course the Court will set a date for oral argument. (In doing so, it may combine the argument with a rescheduled one in the San Angelo case, whose hearing was postponed at the last minute for personal reasons. Then again, since the San Angelo involves the Dennis Canon while the Fort Worth case does not, The Court may keep them separate.)
The Episcopal Church (USA) and its ersatz Diocese had each filed 50-page briefs in the Texas Supreme Court in response to Bishop Iker's opening brief. (Fifty pages is the maximum length the Court allows for opening or responding briefs, without special permission. Reply briefs are limited to 25 pages.) In addition, they filed voluminous appendices reproducing many of the exhibits they had submitted to the trial court. Neither the briefs nor the appendices is linked yet on the parties' website, but you may, as commenter DDR below points out, download them from the Court's official website.
Rather than file two 25-page reply briefs, Bishop Iker's attorneys asked for and received permission to file a consolidated reply brief of thirty-two pages. No doubt on Monday you will be able to download it from a link on the Episcopal Diocese's main page (as well as from the Court's website).
ECUSA and Bishop Ohl's congregations argued strenuously in their briefs for Texas to adhere to the traditional "deference-to-hierarchy" standard, as exemplified in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. [13 Wall.] 679 (1872). That argument faces, however, an uphill battle, as the Texas Supreme Court has never officially adopted the Watson doctrine. (In its only church property case before the current ones -- a case decided in 1909 -- the Texas Supreme Court managed to sidestep the issue. Indeed, as the Court of Appeal in the San Angelo case pointed out, the resulting approach which the Court took in 1909 was indistinguishable from the later "neutral principles" approach of Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979).
In reply, Bishop Iker's attorneys argue that it does not matter which approach the Texas Supreme Court decides to adopt, because under either one, Bishop Iker's diocese prevails over the ECUSA claims. Its deeds, its charter from the State, and its governing documents are unambiguous about the fact that it controls its own property. Moreover, because ECUSA's governing documents do not attempt to place any restrictions on property owned or controlled by member dioceses, but only on the properties of parishes and missions, its claims to the diocesan properties are bogus, and require no "deference" whatsoever.
Texas is thus appearing as though it could be the first jurisdiction in the United States to issue a definitive ruling on the ability of Episcopal Church (USA) member dioceses to leave that organization with their property and bank accounts intact. Of course, the fact that the Episcopal Church did nothing to stop the Confederate dioceses from withdrawing en masse after the outbreak of the Civil War, and waited patiently for them to return afterward without ever going to court over the matter, speaks volumes.
The Episcopal Church (USA)'s priorities have changed markedly in 150 years -- and not for the better. That it would consume its ever-dwindling resources over such a dispute is nothing to be emulated, or admired. (Thankfully, PCUSA thus far has had to deal only with the withdrawal of individual parishes, and not regional presbyteries or synods.) Instead of chasing after dioceses no longer willing to participate in its apostasy and decline, ECUSA should concentrate on getting its own house in order.