Story Highlights

On March 25, 2014, the loyal Episcopalians of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth filed a motion requesting the Texas Supreme Court to stay its mandate in anticipation of an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

A copy of the motion is HERE:
Emergency Motion to Recall and Stay Issuance of Mandate or to Stay Enforcement of Mandate

A copy of the Episcopal Parties’ reply to the breakaway faction’s response is HERE:
Reply in Support of Motion to Stay Mandate

On Friday, March 21, 2014, the Texas Supreme Court denied the loyal Episcopalians’ motion for rehearing and issued its mandate, returning the case back to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s August 30, 2013 opinion. The Court took the same action in the Masterson case from the Diocese of Northwest Texas. Those motions for rehearing raised the important question of whether a state court can switch to the “neutral principles” approach for church property cases, and then apply that new doctrine to undo agreements made within a church before those new rules were in place. The loyal Episcopalians’ motions showed that for more than a hundred years, courts and churches have understood Texas to be a “deference” state – and have relied on that law to protect their religious rights. The Episcopal parties argued that changing the rules of the game after the dispute erupted was a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantees.

Given the Texas Supreme Court’s denials, the Episcopal parties now have a right to petition the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. This petition will raise important constitutional issues, including but not limited to:

  1. the constitutionality of applying the neutral principles approach retroactively to arrangements made within a church under the deference doctrine,
  2. the continued viability of the neutral principles approach over the deference approach in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and
  3. the split among state courts as to whether an express-trust canon in a church’s governing documents trumps contrary state law.

No recent case has presented these issues so squarely or with such straightforward facts.

Petitions for writ of certiorari in this matter are due on or before June 19, 2014.

Under the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Court’s inherent powers, parties are entitled to ask the Texas Supreme Court to “stay” or postpone sending the parties back for more litigation in the trial court “pending the United States Supreme Court’s disposition of a petition for writ of certiorari.” Tex. R. App. P. 18.2. The loyal Episcopalians have asked the Texas Supreme Court to do just that. If the Texas Supreme Court denies this request, the parties are entitled to ask the U.S. Supreme Court for the same relief. The alternative – forcing the parties to litigate under neutral principles in the trial court while appealing that standard in the U.S. Supreme Court – would cause unnecessary, wasteful, and costly duplication should the U.S. Supreme Court take the case now.

As the breakaway faction continues to use courts and corporations to try to take Church property it swore to protect for the Church – property it received from the Church only by promising to use it solely for the Church – the Episcopal Parties are heartened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reflection that the deference line of church property cases “radiates a spirit of freedom for religious organizations, an independence from secular control or manipulation – in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.” Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. E.E.O.C., 132 S. Ct. 694, 704 (2012) (citations and modifications omitted).