In September, Bernie D. Jones of Suffolk University Law School posted Litigating the Schism and Reforming the Canon: Orthodoxy, Property & the Modern Social Gospel of the Episcopal Church. Her article explores the issues that arise when intra-church dogmatic schisms encounter property jurisprudence and the thorny predicament that American courts, in turn, face when asked to decide questions of doctrinal accuracy under a system in which the Establishment Clause forbids courts’ taking sides in internal theological debates. Jones ultimately recommends the development of internal Episcopal processes for resolving such disputes.
This article relates to a host of present-day schisms in the Anglican Communion. Doctrinal controversies over issues such as the ordination of female priests have resulted in more than twenty American Episcopal congregations’ opting to align themselves with conservative bishops in Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda; forming new domestic provinces in the United States; and English congregations’ leaving the Communion for Catholicism.
When controversies that are, at their root, theological lead to legal questions over the ownership of property, what, if anything, can an American court do without violating constitutional limitations?
See the abstract of Jones’ article after the jump: