Texas Supreme Court wades into Episcopal dispute (over church property)
Wading into the tricky legal waters where religion and government meet, the Texas Supreme Court will decide who owns 52 Fort Worth-area churches — the national Episcopal Church or the diocese that broke away in protest of the consecration of a gay bishop, the ordination of women and other liberal policies.
The properties at stake are worth more than $100 million, making this the largest church-property dispute in Texas history, and probably in U.S. history as well, lawyers say.
What’s more, the court decision will affect the way Texas handles future church disputes by further pinning down a moving legal target: the dividing line between the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, and state laws affecting property, nonprofits and related areas.
“It’s not the amount of money that makes the case important,” Scott Brister, a lawyer for the breakaway diocese, told the court during oral arguments in October. “Churches are, of course, an important part of this state. After all, what does it profit a state to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?”