Today the Illinois Supreme Court posted twenty-eight pages of its recent dispositions of requests made by losing parties for leave to appeal their decision to that Court. On page twelve, at the very top, appears this brief notation:
No. 118186 – The Diocese of Quincy et al., respondents, v. The Episcopal Church et al., petitioners. Leave to appeal, Appellate Court, Fourth District. (4-13-0901)
Petition for leave to appeal denied.
What this means is that the highest court of a State has now ruled that there is no provision in the governing documents of the Episcopal Church (USA) that keeps a Diocese from withdrawing its membership in that organization. The Church in fact is an unincorporated association of dioceses fashioned under American common law, and not under the laws of any one given State. Under the First Amendment, members of such associations are free to leave the group at any time, with only reasonable restrictions placed on their ability to do so (they could be required to pay any back dues still owed, for example). The opinion delivered last April by the Illinois Fourth District Court of Appeal stands as written.
ECUSA’s options are now very limited. They could ask the Illinois Supreme Court to rehear their request — a move that has never been known to be successful among the Illinois attorneys to whom I have talked. And they have 90 days within which to file a petition for certiorari (review) with the United States Supreme Court — which thus far has turned down every other recent petition in the various church property cases.
Moreover, the Diocese of Chicago was never admitted to the case as the successor to the remnant Diocese of Quincy that merged into it a year ago September. So there is a procedural difficulty to ECUSA’s taking the case further: it no longer has a diocese as a co-party which it can misleadingly try to put forward as “the real Diocese of Quincy.” And if no diocese is a party, who is left to complain that the departure of the Anglican Diocese was null and void, because the “real one” is right here? Just ECUSA, which itself is not a diocese, but an association of dioceses — and it already has lost that argument in two Illinois courts.
Meanwhile, however, the decision will come as a very useful precedent for the courts in the other pending diocesan withdrawal cases — which present a unique question that the Illinois court is now the first to have definitively decided. Watch for the withdrawing dioceses to cite the case to the courts in Texas (Ft. Worth), California (San Joaquin) and South Carolina.