Court Favors Episcopal Church in Property Fight

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The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled 6-1 in favor of the national Episcopal Church in a property battle with a breakaway congregation.

The historic Christ Church in Savannah left the Episcopal denomination four years ago. Now, the state court ruled the church must return the $3 million property to the denomination.

The court found that the First Amendment's guarantee to freedom of religion "allows the local congregation and its members to leave the Episcopal Church and worship as they please, like all other Americans," Justice David Nahmias wrote in the 45-page majority opinion.

"But it does not allow them to take with them property that has for generations been accumulated and held by a constituent church of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America," he added.

Judge S. Phillip Brown was the lone dissenter on the state's high court.

"Today's majority opinion effectively eviscerates many of Georgia's property laws, trust laws, and equity laws," he wrote.

Christ Church was among dozens that broke away from the Episcopal Church after it consecrated its first openly gay bishop.

"While we are grateful that a third court has upheld our legal rights to the property held in trust for The Episcopal Church for more than 200 years, whatever satisfaction we feel in prevailing in the courts is muted by the knowledge that this decision is painful for some of our brothers and sisters in Christ," Bishop Scott Anson Benhase said.
 
Christ Church officials say they're considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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