TEXAS SUPREME COURT HEARS CHURCH CASE
Today, 5 December 2019, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in the Episcopal Church case. A video of the hearing is available online here . Today's session was on an appeal of the TX Second District Court of Appeals decision of April 5, 2018. See my blog report on this here . This Appeals court decision was a 178-page masterpiece overwhelmingly on the side of the Episcopal Church. The breakaways appealed it to the state supreme court.
In today's hearing, the justices seemed a bit irritated that they had this case at all. Justice Blacklock asked several times why this had not been settled by negotiations. Each side blamed the other. The schismatics' lawyer, Scott Brister said of TEC, "they don't settle." Not true. In fact, TEC offered to give all 36 parishes in SC independence and property in return for the entity of the historic diocese, in June of 2015. It was the breakaway side that rejected this. Brister also said courts around the country have decided about half and half. Not true. The breakaways won in exactly one place, Quincy. They lost in Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, and SC.
Essentially Brister argued this as a neutral principles case between two equal parties.
The church lawyer, Thomas Leatherburg argued that the diocese was created by the Episcopal Church under terms of TEC. Under those terms it was subject to the Constitution and Canons of TEC. "This is in the nature of a contract." It cannot be broken unilaterally. The breakaways had no right to take the diocese out of TEC. The church position was this is ultimately an ecclesiastical matter.
As in SC, the Dennis Canon figured prominently. Actually, the TX supreme court had ruled earlier that the Dennis Canon did not go into effect in TX because under state law, the deed holder had to make a trust. The Appeals Court agreed with this. However, the Appeals Court said this did not matter because the diocese (and its properties) remained part of TEC. Therefore, the breakaways claim to the historic diocese was invalid. Thus, the Dennis Canon itself was not the issue today. The issue was whether the breakaway group had the right to take the diocese out of the TEC. The breakaway lawyer said they did have the right under state law. The church lawyer said they did not have the right. This was the position essentially taken by the Appeals Court. The ownership of the properties then is the collateral of the larger issue.
Now the TX supreme court justices will have to decide whether to uphold or reverse the Appeals Court decision. The weight of the matter is on the side of the Appeals Court decision, and therefore the Church. The supreme court will have to find substantial errors in the Appeals Court opinion in order to change it. I did not hear much support for reversal in the hearing today.