Friday, July 17, 2015

Kansas Trial Court Applies Neutral Principles Approach In Suit Over Presbyterian Church Property

KCTV News reports on a decision handed down this week by the Kansas 10th Judicial District trial court in a dispute between two factions of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley over ownership of church property. Last year, the pastor and 300 parishioners of the Overland Park, Kansas congregation broke away from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and affiliated with the more conservative Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. The parent body, Heartland Presbytery, filed suit over ownership. The court ordered the two factions to pray in separate rooms in the church while the case was in litigation. Wednesday the court issued a ruling, holding that the property does not belong to the Presbytery, but does belong to the local congregation that remains with the PCUSA. The court used a "neutral principles" approach, even though traditionally Kansas courts have deferred to the decision of the parent body in churches with a hierarchical structure.

In its decision, the court rejected the argument that under church law the property is held in trust for the regional Presbytery.  Because the deed and mortgages are in the name of the local congregation, it is the owner. However on the question of which faction constitutes the local congregation, the court deferred to the PCUSA Constitution finding that the faction remaining loyal to it was entitled to ownership rights. The court gave the parties ten days to work out building occupancy arrangements.