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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Important Church Property Case Heading to Supreme Court

VirtueOnline - NEWPORT BEACH, CA: St. James Church's Property Battle Moves to US Supreme Court

In the ongoing saga of Episcopal parishes leaving the denomination and wanting to take their property with them, a California church is attempting to take their case to the US Supreme Court. This is a very important case that could impact possibly hundreds of churches involved in property disputes -- not just Episcopal ones.

The Episcopal Church claims to have the "Denis Canon" on it side -- canon law which states that local churches hold their properties "in trust" for the diocese of which it is a part of, meaning they do not own the property. Many have argued against the Denis Canon and many have lost.

As I understand it, the difference in argument this time that will likely propel them to the Supreme Court is: St. James is arguing their Constitutional freedom of religious expression is being hampered by the Denis Canon.

A quote from the article:
Under longstanding law, no one can unilaterally impose a trust over someone else's property without their permission. Yet, in the St. James case before the California Supreme Court, named Episcopal Church Cases, the Court created a special perquisite for certain churches claiming to be "hierarchical," with a "superior religious body," which may allow them to unilaterally appropriate for themselves property purchased and maintained by spiritually affiliated but separately incorporated local churches. St. James will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that this preferential treatment for certain kinds of religion violates the U.S. Constitution.
Many churches invested in properties that they agreed to hold in trust for their diocese, never imagining that their diocese/denomination might walk away from the Christian faith. Now they want out of the denomination. Do they fight for their property or just walk away? St. James is fighting.

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