Thinking Anglicans

California court rules on church property cases

Episcopal News Service reports:

In a landmark ruling that could have national implications, the California Supreme Court on January 5 upheld an earlier court decision that buildings and property do not belong to dissident congregations but to the Diocese of Los Angeles and the general Episcopal Church…

See California Supreme Court rules disputed property belongs to general church by Pat McCaughan.

The full text of the opinion is a PDF file available here.

There are many more links to related stories at Episcopal Café both here, and also here.

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Cynthia GilliattBobinSWPAJerry HannonFather Ron Smithdrdanfee Recent comment authors
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Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

At the very least, the decision seems to leave the Southern Coners of San Joaquin up the creek without a cathedral.

Walsingham
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Walsingham

I kinda saw this coming, though I’m surprised at just how strongly the court came down on the side of ECUSA. The vote was for all intents and purposes unanimous. Wow. This certainly bodes ill for the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. Whether and how it affects the Virginia cases of course remains to be seen, but I can’t see the division statute there standing the test of constitutionality, precisely for the reasons the California court stated in refusing to accept the parishes’ arguments — it interferes with the internal workings of a religious institution. Meanwhile maybe this will put… Read more »

Bronwyn
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Bronwyn

The ruling is wrong in its analysis and absurd in its results. As the justices plainly admit, no secular organization would be allowed to take property under such circumstances, The local churches which are having their property confiscated never explicitly deeded their property to the diocese or to the national church. The court relied on internal church documents to prove that California citizens could be stripped of their property without the protection of the state – a deed proving that they intended such a transaction. All the protections that a deed affords to secular citizens are denied these California citizens… Read more »

Richard Warren
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Richard Warren

It will be interesting indeed to see if this has any effect upon the property dispute cases now pending in other locations in the US and whether the folks in places like Ft. Worth and Pittsburgh, who have decided to affiliate with other Anglican churches, are going to go ahead and hire lawyers to claim ownership of what isn’t really theirs. Suppose those who chose to follow former Bishop Schofield out of TEC are going to give back what they have walked away with in view of the California Supreme Court’s ruling?

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

“These governing documents make clear that church property is held in trust for the general church and may be controlled by the local church only so long as that local church remains a part of the general church. When it disaffiliated from the general church, the local church did not have the right to take the church property with it.” – Supreme Court of California ruling – In reply to Bronwyn here, the Supreme Court of California obviously does not agree with your undetstanding of the issue of property ownership vis-a-vis the dispute Diocese versus Congregation in California. TEC membership… Read more »

MJ
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MJ

Bronwyn: “The ruling is wrong in its analysis and absurd in its results…” It’s time this weird Anglican congregationalism was finally put to bed. No other Anglican province would permit a congregation to leave and take the property with it. Nor would congregations in other provinces expect to be able to do so. Even the very provinces that are egging the American defectors on do not permit it. E.g. the Constitution of the Church of Nigeria states: “55. With effect from the registration of the Trustees under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990, all property of the Church of… Read more »

toby forward
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This sounds like a wise ruling to me. It recognises that the churches of the Anglican Communion are episcopal in nature and that individual parishes are part of the diocese, not separate entities. Many of these parishes will have income and/or property from generations before, people who would not have wanted their bequests to be given away to breakaway groups. Any other ruling would have been impossible to uphold.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

Bronwyn: Do the words in the canons and charter of the subject parishes mean nothing? Do the passages and phrases that say the property is held in trust for the diocese and the national church have no validity? As for what the majority “bought and paid for”…you mean the predecessors of that majority, don’t you? The current parishioners may have paid for the recent upkeep of the property, but they didn’t pay to buy it or build it. If these parishes are like most around here, not even the descendants of the people who DID make those payments are parishioners… Read more »

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

“If these parishes are like most around here, not even the descendants of the people who DID make those payments are parishioners there any longer.”

OTOH, I know of a couple of people in my church here in Harrisonburg whose family members – some going back to colonial times – are in fact interred at The Falls Chruch. They are most unhappy to have the breakaway congregants controlling that property.

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“no secular organization” “having their property confiscated” “citizens could be stripped of their property” “discrimination” Bronwyn, these statements show an alarming attitude towards the Church. The Church is not a secular organization. “Citizens” are not being stripped of “their” property. The property belongs to God. Oh, I know, everything belongs to God, but it is an ancient principle that congregations do not “own” the buildings they have built “to the glory and honour of God”. Your insistence on seeing this as “discrimination” shows your attachment to victimhood rather than reality. Sorry, but if people want to go into schism, that’s… Read more »

Mark Wharton
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Mark Wharton

What does it mean in practice?

ruidh
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ruidh

“The only justification for this discrimination and absurd entanglement of government with religion is “historic deference given to superior church bodies”. These California judges have taken upon themselves to enforce church documents of which they can truly know nothing.” On the contrary, they are *required* by Supreme Court precedent to give effect to the rulings of superior church bodies. The CA court correctly applied current precedent as have dozens of courts around the US. It implements the First Amendment guarantees of Freedom of Religion as it allows hierarchical churches to order their affairs as they choose. If you have a… Read more »

Richard Zevnik
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Richard Zevnik

And, for that matter, the language of California Civil Code sections 9142(c) and 9142(d), which were enacted after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Jones v. Wolf specifically to address the issue. A statute duly enacted by the Legislature of a state of the United States to implement a holding of the United States Supreme Court is anything but unconstitutional. Bronwyn may not like the result, but from his post, it’s clear he/she doesn’t have the qualifications to make the statements he/she has.

ettu
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ettu

Pat O’Neill – Sincere thanks for saving me the trouble of responding to Bronwyn. The only thing I care to add is that Churches are,clearly, not secular institutions so Bronwyn’s comments are rendered suspect by the very first statement she makes. It really would have been so much easier if the dissenters had done what so many others have done in millenia past and just packed their tents and moved on to new quarters rather than expecting to appropriate places that previous generations had paid for and expected to be passed down to their church – not to a dissenting… Read more »

Weiwen
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It’s important to keep in mind that whenever two people sue each other, only the lawyers win. I can’t muster much sympathy for the Anglican Diocese of SJ, but this represents a waste of time, energy and money by both sides. Considerable ill will has been built. And now, how many of the old buildings will we have to sell because we can’t create self-sustaining parishes in all of them?

Tobias Haller
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The California Supreme Court and the SCOTUS both recognize the validity of either the “hierarchical church” OR the effective “neutrality” of the statutes of a hierarchical church. This does not, as the lone dissenter seems to think, virtually render all decisions hierarchical — but it does recognize that there is a covenant and trust relationship involved in hierarchical churches, and that explicit covenant and trust is in itself a neutral principle of law. This is the one point that the dissident side do not acknowledge; that the SCOTUS decision includes the laws of a hierarchical church as neutral in themselves:… Read more »

Robert Ian Williams
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Robert Ian Williams

The sad thing is , that the departing Dioceses know that they will lose..but they are banking on spinning the cases out for about five years.

Leagl bills are cheaper than renting or building new Churches.

They could only take more people with them by pretending they had a legal case.

Also even with this definitive ruling some of the Church congregations are planning an appeal!

bobinswpa
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bobinswpa

Me thinks Bronwyn just wants to stir up trouble. Can’t imagine why! Must be a sore loser.

JCF
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JCF

[Pounding the table, Bronwyn? (Old lawyers joke, re what to do when neither the law nor the facts are on one’s side)]

Sad, to see it come to this. In this case, IMO, the Cal S.C. has been a vehicle for God’s Justice. Depart in peace, “Church of Ugandans”…

drdanfee
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drdanfee

Bronwyn’s spin doctoring is a definitional effort that falls flat. TEC has long been that typical USA combo of a national or provincial hierarchical church (hence, bishops, and GC) with counterbalancing local parish or congregational features (vestry, local calls, and so forth). None of the local features was construed before now to undo or weaken the national or provincial ones, any more than such parish realities were understood to undo or weaken diocesan life any more than it already was. (The Wesleyians thought USA episcopal church bishops to be already too weak, so even United Methodist bishops have more direct… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

“What does it mean in practice?” – Mark Wharton – Mark, if you need this to be spelt out for you, you must not have been completely understanding of the cause for which you have been contesting here on this blog-site. Briefly, it means that the supreme Court of California has ruled against the attempts of parishes within its area to take with them the property of the TEC Churches with which they were formerly associated when they were members of TEC. If you want further background of the disputes, you should take the trouble to look back over previous… Read more »

Jerry Hannon
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Jerry Hannon

Oh dear, Bronwyn, did you not know that The Episcopal Church is NOT formed of on the basis of congregational parishes? The California Supreme Court seemed to have no trouble understanding that reality, now did it? You may not like the result, but the Court deliberated on the basis of much more information available to either you, or me, or anyone else posting here. And, as anyone who follows the US legal system knows, while you can get an off-the-wall (either direction) first level judge, the process purges most of those anomalies at the appellate level. California’s appellate process has… Read more »

BobinSWPA
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BobinSWPA

Cynthia I’ve been your way. I recently visited Trinity in Staunton. I do see that on of the Network listed parishes in Charlottesville has distanced itself from the network (they even taken the emblems and link off their web page). Maybe some fo the parishes are starting to think this is going too far! I think the case will be helpful to those in Virginia. Pennsylvania has come already come down on the side of the hierarchical church. This happened with St. James the Less— “The church and associated school have been closed since 2006, when, after a lengthy court… Read more »

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

“I think the case will be helpful to those in Virginia.” I don’t know about that. Virginia passed a law after the Civil War to accommodate churches – like the Presbyterians and the Baptists – that had split over slavery, so that post-war they could decide property issues. Neither of those churches is hierarchical. Virginia also saw an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, who in the past, as a member of General Assembly, had tried to pass legislation designed to facilitate the alienation of property by absconders, file a brief on the side of the absconders. [I may not have all the… Read more »