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Breaking: Cert. denied by Supreme Court in Fort Worth property suit

Breaking: Cert. denied by Supreme Court in Fort Worth property suit

The effect is to send the case back to the Texas courts. It’s not over.

The Associated Press


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has turned away a pair of appeals from the national Episcopal Church in a dispute over church property claimed by a breakaway sect in Texas.

The justices on Monday let stand two Texas Supreme Court rulings in favor of the Fort Worth Episcopal diocese, which has held on to 52 church properties worth more than $100 million since breaking away in 2008. The diocese opposes the consecration of gay bishops, ordination of women and other policies its leadership considers too liberal.

A lower court had ruled in favor of the national church. But a divided Texas Supreme Court reversed, saying the rift should be resolved on neutral principles of law that apply to nonreligious disputes. It sent the case back to the lower court for further review. [Emphasis added.]

SCOTUS blog has the case file:

Issue: (1) Whether the First Amendment or Jones v. Wolf requires courts to enforce express trusts recited in general-church governing documents (as some jurisdictions hold), or whether such a trust is enforceable only when it would otherwise comply with state law (as others hold); (2) whether retroactive application of the neutral-principles approach infringes free-exercise rights; and (3) whether the neutral-principles approach endorsed in Jones remains a constitutionally viable means of resolving church-property disputes, especially in light of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC.

Further background at SCOTUS blog.

In Virginia it was the breakaway sect that was denied cert. by the United States Supreme Court. The court has been unwilling to wade into Jones v. Wolf and have let the states go in whatever different directions they like.


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Katie Sherrod

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth knew the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was a long shot, but felt there were serious constitutional issues in the opinion of the Texas Supreme Court that needed addressing. Even as we waited to hear from SCOTUS, our legal team was preparing for the hearing in the 141st District Court in Fort Worth. We are well prepared to argue our case on neutral principles and are confident of the outcome. There is a statement at

I always find it surprising that few connect the dots between these lawsuits and the restructuring of the Episcopal Church. I blogged about it recently:

Andrew Ford

Whit T. Johnstone

I am disappointed but not surprised by this ruling. The US Supreme Court has been very unwilling to get involved in church property disputes. The Texas courts almost decide in favor of conservatives in cases involving religion since Texan justices and judges are elected.

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