Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cert. Filed In 3 Church Property Cases

Anglican Curmudgeon reported last week that petitions for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court have been filed this month in three cases involving property disputes between parent churches and break-away congregations. At issue in each of the cases is a holding that under the neutral principles of law doctrine, the break-away church's property was held in trust for the parent church.  Two of the decisions came from the Georgia Supreme Court (see prior posting)--  Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church in Savannah v. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Inc. (full text of cert. petition) and Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Inc. v. Timberridge Presbyterian Church, Inc. (full text of cert. petition).

The third case is Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Connecticut v. Gauss. In the case, the Connecticut Supreme Court in an Oct. 11, 2011 opinion (full text) held that the Dennis Canon applies in the case to establish an express trust of church property in favor of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Connecticut. The petition for certiorari (full text) was coordinated with the Christ Church petition. All of the cases raise the same question, framed in the Episcopal Church cases as follows:
Whether a trust allegedly imposed on local church property by provisions in denominational documents must be treated as legally cognizable under the “neutral principles” doctrine of Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979), and the First Amendment, even where such provisions do not satisfy generally applicable rules of state property and trust law.