St. James’ Senior Pastor, the Rev. Richard Crocker, said, “While it is obviously disappointing, we always felt the court might prefer to wait until the trial proceedings were final. Our battle is far from over. We look forward to having the trial court rule on a written promise from the Episcopal Church in 1991 that they would never lay claim on our property. Our members have engaged in much prayer in order to discern God’s will for our congregation and what His call might be for us. We believe God has asked us to stand steadfast for His Gospel as well as to remain steadfast on this legal battlefield.”
Following is a statement by John Eastman, counsel of record on The Supreme Court petition:
“The Supreme Court normally considers only cases that are final, so it is not surprising that the Court decided to wait until further developments in this case are completed. There are some exceptions to the finality rule that we believe would have permitted review now, but the Court’s decision today does not foreclose review down the road once a full trial of the matter and subsequent appeals in the California Courts have run their course.”
In its June 24, 2009 petition for a writ of certiorari, St. James Church asked The Supreme Court to consider whether the California Supreme Court’s interpretation of a California statute, as giving special power to certain religious denominations to take property they do not own, unconstitutionally establishes certain forms of religion and infringes upon the freedom of local church congregations to exercise their religion without having their property taken by an affiliated denomination.
The Episcopal lawsuits against St. James stemmed from a decision by the members of St. James Church in August 2004 to align themselves with another branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and end the church’s affiliation with the Episcopal Church over core theological differences involving the authority of Holy Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles sued St. James Church, All Saints Church, Long Beach, CA, and St. David’s Church, No. Hollywood, CA, and over two dozen volunteer board members in September 2004. Subsequently, TEC intervened into the lawsuits against the three local church corporations. Since that time, the case has progressed from the Orange County Superior Court to the California Supreme Court, which decided how such church property disputes would be resolved in California. After a lengthy appeal from an early victory attacking the Episcopal complaints, the case was recently remanded to the Orange County Superior Court for St. James to answer, engage in discovery, and trial.
Eric C. Sohlgren, lead counsel for St. James in the California courts, said, “St. James has followed a steady course since this lawsuit was first filed against them and its church volunteers over five years ago. The reason is that the principles at stake go to the very heart of what Americans hold dear ”“ the right to own property without outside interference and the right to freely exercise one’s religion regardless of belief or faith group. The Episcopal Church hasn’t contributed a dime toward the purchase or maintenance of St. James’ properties or buildings, and they’ve stood on the sidelines while watching the people of St. James carry all of the burdens and benefits of property ownership for decades. In our diverse and freedom-loving land, no one should have their property confiscated over religious belief.”