Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Louisiana Presbyterian Church Keeps Control of Its Property [Corrected]

In Carrollton Presbyterian Church v. Presbytery of South Louisiana of the Presbyterian Church (USA), (LA App., Sept. 14, 2011), a Louisiana state appellate court upheld the right of a Presbyterian congregation to sell real property titled in its name.  It held that a provision in the PCUSA's Book of Order regarding rights of the parent church does not apply to this case. That provision of church law specifies that property titled in the name of the congregation is nevertheless held in trust for the parent church. A provision in the Church's Book of Order, however, allowed congregations that were part of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, when it reunited with the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, to opt out of the provision. Carrollton had opted out. The court went on to say that even if Carrollton had not opted out, neutral Louisiana trust law would apply to this case.

The court also upheld against 1st Amendment challenge provision in the injunction that were designed to prevent evasion of its terms.  These included initiating disciplinary actions against Carrollton officials because of the property dispute, dissolving the church in order to take over its property, or otherwise interfering with congregational personnel in ways that relate to use of the property. This does not prevent non-pretexutal ecclesiastical actions. Virtue Online comments on the decision, comparing it to similar cases in the Episcopal Church arising under the so-called Dennis Canon. AnglicansUnited has background on the case.