Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Parish Suit Against Episcopal Diocese Dismissed

On Monday, a Connecticut federal district court dismissed a suit against the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut brought by six parishes whose priests were removed and whose property was taken over by the Diocese in a dispute over the ordination of gay priests. In Parish of St. Paul's Episcopal Church v. Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut Donations & Bequests for Church Purposes, Inc., (D. Conn., Aug. 21, 2006) the court rejected a series of constitutional challenges to the actions of the Diocese. Plaintiffs had come up with a number of innovative theories as to why the Diocese was engaged in "state action", but all of these theories were rejected by the court. The court went on to hold that the issue of whether the Bishop acted contrary to the Diocese's own rules is a question of canon law. Plaintiffs requested a declaratory judgment that Connecticut's statue incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church is unconstitutional. The court held that the Bishop did not need to rely on these statutes to assert heirarchical authority over the parishes, so that any declaration of unconstitutionality would not remedy the plaintiffs' alleged injuries. Therefore the claim is not justiciable.

The decision is covered by today's Hartford Courant. Also see prior related posting.