Calif. Church Petitions Court to Keep Property

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A California church is fighting to keep its building in a property dispute involving the Episcopal Church

The U.S. Supreme Court may step in to resolve the issue.

When the California Supreme Court ruled the local church's building belonged to the Episcopal Diocese and not to the members of St. James Church.

The congregation's attorney promised that "this case is far away from being over."

Church Left Diocese After Gay Bishop Ordained Five Years Ago

The property battle began after the local St. James congregation left the Episcopal denomination, following the ordination of an openly gay bishop in 2004.

The congregation has now filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking "Does the United States Constitution disregard the normal rules of property ownership that apply to everyone else?"

The church then argues in the petition that if this is the case, "every local church is possibly at risk of losing its property upon change of religious affiliation."

John Eastman is St. James' lead attorney in the U.S. Supreme Court case.

"If the Supreme Court takes it, there is huge significance," he told CBN News. "What you have got are two competing rules about how to decide church property disputes."

One rule gives ownership to the larger denomination. The other gives ownership to the individual church. But St. James is one of many churches, where neither rule is completely applicable.

"People can leave the Episcopal Church any time they want," said Bishop Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. "What this decision has said is that this property will stay with the Episcopalian Church."

"What you have got here is the U.S. Supreme Court trying to come up with a rule on how to resolve those church questions that are fairly unclear," Eastman said.

The court could respond to St. James petition as early as October.

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