ST. JAMES CHURCH’S LEGAL BATTLE OVER ITS PROPERTY
MOVING TO UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT:
WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO BE FILED IN MAY 2009
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – May 5, 2009 – St. James Anglican Church, at the centerpiece of a nationally publicized church property dispute with the Episcopal Church, announced today that it will file a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court to resolve an important issue of religious freedom: Does the United States Constitution, which both prohibits the establishment of religion and protects the free exercise of religion, allow certain religious denominations to disregard the normal rules of property ownership that apply to everyone else?
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.
The constitutional issues St. James will raise before the U.S. Supreme Court go far beyond St. James or even the Episcopal Church. Every local church, temple, synagogue, parish, spiritual center, congregation or religious group which owns its property, and has some affiliation with a larger religious group, is possibly at risk of losing its property upon a change of religious affiliation. As a result, religious freedom is suppressed, as those who have sacrificed to build their local religious communities are now at risk of having their properties taken based on some past, current or future spiritual affiliation. A United States Supreme Court decision in favor of St. James would benefit local churches and religious groups throughout the country because it would allow congregations the ability to freely exercise their religion without having to forfeit their property to a larger religious body or denomination with which they are affiliated in the event of a dispute over religious doctrine.
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