A Texas Episcopal diocese is in court over church property
disputes after having withdrawn from the national Episcopal
The Diocese of Ft. Worth withdrew from the denomination over
theological issues related to marriage, which resulted in
the national denomination claiming ownership of its property.
Then a lawsuit came, and a state district court judge ruled in
favor of the denomination.
Attorney Justin Butterworth is with Liberty
Institute, which filed a brief before the Texas Supreme Court
arguing there is a middle ground as to court involvement in church
"What Liberty Institute is arguing is that when the church
hierarchy is clear -- that is when it is clear that one branch
of the church has authority over another branch -- then the
courts should defer to that branch," Butterworth details.
"It's unconstitutional for the courts to involve themselves in
internal church disputes and to tell a church that they can't
govern themselves in the way they would like to govern
On the other hand, when the hierarchy is unclear or is disputed
-- in this case above the diocese level -- then Liberty Institute
believes the courts should just dismiss those cases,
ruling them to be out of their jurisdiction.
Butterworth adds that his firm believes courts have to
be careful not to intrude in doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes
-- though some legal issues can go before the courts.