A.S. Haley: ECUSA and Freedom of Association: a Showdown Is Due
Monday, March 2, 2015
Litigation between the Episcopal Church (USA) and its parishes has been ongoing for more than fifteen years. It is a myth to say that the Church did not start any of the lawsuits: you can read all of the dreary details in this post. The Church and its several Dioceses, in fact, are responsible for more than 90% of the cases that have been filed.
The first Diocese, however, did not vote to dissolve its union with General Convention until December 2007. Before that time, the cases all involved individual parishes that attempted to withdraw from their respective Dioceses. Thus, the All Saints Waccamaw case in the Diocese of South Carolina began in 2000 (it was not finally resolved until 2009). So also did the case of St. Andrew's, in Morehead City, North Carolina, which was finally decided in June 2003. The former was decided for the parish; the latter for the Diocese.
And that has pretty much been the story of the parish cases: mostly wins for ECUSA, with some occasional losses (particularly in those States which still adhere to the requirements of the Statute of Frauds, which requires that in order to create a legally binding trust in real property, there must be a trust instrument in writing that is signed by the actual owner of the real property).
The details, again, are all in the post linked before. By my count, 40 of the 91 cases listed resulted in legal victories at the trial or appellate level for ECUSA; just two parish cases (All Saints and the Good Shepherd San Angelo case in Texas) went the other way, but three of the five cases involving Dioceses resulted in rulings against ECUSA. A fourth diocese case (San Joaquin) is on appeal; the fifth one (Pittsburgh) gave a victory to ECUSA on the basis of a very strained reading of the effect of a stipulation between the parties... the rest
So why is it spending so much money on a futile legal dispute? Ah, that is the question. Whenever someone who is wealthy as ECUSA is spends so much on an uphill legal battle, which it has no rational hope of winning, the motive has to be simply to hope to win by outspending one's opponent. Make it so costly for them that they will just fold their tents and walk away from all their property.
The strategy did not work in Illinois. And it has not worked to date in Fort Worth or South Carolina; I have little difficulty in predicting it will not work in San Joaquin. The decision in Fort Worth has just come out, and confirms what I wrote above; the one in South Carolina (affirming the trial court's ruling) is at least a year away; and the one in San Joaquin is probably eighteen months to two years away. But at the end of it all, ECUSA will lose, and lose big -- especially after having spent so much money.