Friend of Court Brief Filed in Fort Worth Lawsuit

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Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Today several bishops of The Episcopal Church joined The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. (“ACI”), in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Texas Supreme Court in the lawsuit arising out of the withdrawal of the Diocese of Fort Worth from The Episcopal Church. All of these bishops and all of the officers and directors of ACI remain in The Episcopal Church and have submitted this brief solely because they disagree with the characterization of the governance of The Episcopal Church as submitted in support of the motion for summary judgment that the trial court granted in this case. As is well known, these bishops and ACI oppose the decision by the Diocese of Fort Worth to leave The Episcopal Church. They have no intention of withdrawing from the Church, but it is precisely because they intend to remain in the Church that they are concerned that the trial court ruling has misunderstood, and thereby damaged, the constitutional structure of The Episcopal Church.

In their brief, the bishops and ACI argue that the summary judgment ruling by the trial court in the Fort Worth litigation violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because it immersed the court in an impermissible “searching” and “extensive inquiry into religious polity.” Under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, courts may constitutionally defer to a church authority rather than apply neutral principles of law only if they can identify the appropriate ecclesiastical authority without conducting such an extensive inquiry into church governance. In the case of The Episcopal Church, its governing constitution specifies that the diocesan bishop is “the Ecclesiastical Authority” in the diocese. Acceptance of TEC’s claim that there are other bodies or offices with hierarchical supremacy over the diocesan bishop would require the Court to become embroiled in a searching historical analysis of difficult questions of church polity without any explicit language in the church’s governing instrument on which to base its conclusion. The First Amendment does not permit such a result.

The amicus curiae brief can be read here

April 23 2012 09:04 pm | Articles