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Three appeals to the Supreme court

Three appeals to the Supreme court

Over the last few days there have been reports from Georgia and Connecticut that three groups comprised of break-away Episcopalians or Presbyterians have appealed to the US Supreme Court to overturn decisions that have gone against the break-away groups.

Two of the groups are former Episcopalians. The Georgia based group is from Christ Church Cathedral in Savannah. Local news reports:

“The congregation’s leaders confirmed Friday they had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after exhausting their legal options at the state level.

The breakaway group held onto the downtown Savannah property for more than four years after it left the Episcopal Church in 2007 for affirming its first gay bishop. A long court battle followed, with the Georgia Supreme Court ruling Nov. 21 that the church property rightfully belongs to the Episcopal Church under its governing hierarchy and bylaws.

It’s uncertain whether the nation’s highest court will hear the case. Leaders of the breakaway group say it warrants attention because there have been more than 50 similar church cases litigated in other states.

“You’ve had different rulings from different jurisdictions,” said John Albert, board chairman for the breakaway congregation. “We’ve always felt like this was going to have to get settled at the Supreme Court level.””

The Connecticut based group is made up of former parishioners of Bishop Seabury Episcopal Church in Groton. Again going to local news reports from Connecticut:

The church filed the petition March 14, asking the high court to clarify conflicting rulings on state property and trust laws. “On one side of the split… at least five state supreme courts and one federal circuit hold that courts need to enforce trust provisions in denominational documents only if the provisions create a trust under, ‘objective, well-established concepts of trust and property law’ that are developed for use in all property disputes.”

On the other side of the split, the petition says, four state supreme courts mandate “enforcing denominational documents asserting a trust regardless of whether those documents are otherwise ’embodied in some legally cognizable form.'”

Because of the uncertainty, Bishop Seabury Church claims local churches cannot predict whether courts will recognize them as property owners, and that no local church can affiliate with a denomination without risking the loss of its property.

The third group is made up of disaffected Presbyterians from Timberridge Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. Their request was filed at the beginning of the month.

According to A.S. Haley blogging about the three suits, they are “well-coordinated” with one another. There’s no explanation about who is doing the coordination though.


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Walter Windsor

It seems that with the debacle and collapse of what was the AMiA (now the Anglicans Missing in Action), and the eroding of extra-Anglican(ish) bodies that these groups(?) cannot claim any stable authority(ies), even independent parishes. So, to what “authority” would the Supreme Court direct questions?


Without having seen Bishop Seabury’s arguments, it sounds as though they are specious, at best. If the deed references TEC, or says “held in trust for TEC” or some subsidiary of TEC (like a diocese), then one reasonably may conclude that the property indeed belongs to TEC or one of its subsidiary entitities.

Eric Bonetti

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