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St. James’, Newport Beach, Wins in Court [more details]
The Living Church Foundation ^ | 8/16/2005 | unknown

Posted on 08/17/2005 7:32:31 AM PDT by sionnsar

An Orange County (Calif.) Superior Court Judge ruled that a congregation which voted to leave the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Episcopal Church over a theological dispute is the rightful owner of its buildings, prayer books and other property. St. James’, Newport Beach, was sued by the bishop and Diocese of Los Angeles one year ago. The suit also sought damages from the rector and lay leadership as individuals.

In the ruling issued on Aug. 15, Judge David C. Velasquez dismissed the case against St. James’ prior to trial, determining the diocese had failed to show that it ever had a legal ownership claim in the property.

“Under a hierarchical system of church governance the canons and rules of the general church override any disposition of local church property mandated by state law,” Judge Velasquez said in Coordinated Episcopal Church Cases (Rasmussen v. Bunyan). “However California courts are not bound by canon law. And the hierarchical theory of resolving disputes over church property has been repudiated by California courts.”

The judge also ruled against the diocese on First Amendment grounds, finding that the root of the diocesan lawsuit arose over St. James’ “rejection of the Church’s doctrinal views.” After the initial lawsuit was filed, St. James’ countersued the diocese, filing a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The free speech ruling under SLAPP allows St. James’ to recover its legal fees and other costs.

The lawsuit by the Diocese of Los Angeles was “really aimed at punishing and making an example of St. James’ Church for publicly disagreeing with the direction of the Episcopal Church and taking a stand by disaffiliating from it,” said Eric C. Sohlgren, St. James’ lawyer. “Few things are as precious to Americans as the right to free speech and the right to own property.”

The decision “is simply an initial step in a long process” and will be “immediately appealed,” according to a written statement prepared by the Diocese of Los Angeles.

“As anyone familiar with the circumstances understands, this is not an issue concerning freedom of speech, but simply one that addresses who is the rightful owner of the property in question,” said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno. “We have never disputed that members of the departing congregations are free to worship how they wish, and with whom.”

The decision to appeal may prove a costly one to the diocese, according to the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council and rector of St. James’ from 1987 until his retirement in 2003. He said that by taking a case they will almost certainly lose to a higher court, the diocese will not only incur further financial losses, they will also broaden the impact of the decision.

“This challenges the presumption of the Dennis Canon as an ironclad unassailable law,” he said. “The higher [the diocese] goes in the courts, the greater the significance.”

In additon to St. James’, Newport Beach, the diocese also sued All Saints’, Long Beach, and St. David’s, North Hollywood. The Aug. 15 decision does not apply to those two parishes, and a separate ruling on those two is expected soon.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 08/17/2005 7:32:31 AM PDT by sionnsar
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2 posted on 08/17/2005 7:33:24 AM PDT by sionnsar (†† || (To Libs:) You are failing to celebrate MY diversity || Iran Azadi)
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