Georgia Supreme Court rules against anti-gay breakaway church

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a breakaway Episcopal congregation in Savannah must hand over church property to the national denomination, reported Savannah Now.

Leaders of Savannah’s Christ Church congregation had sued to keep the property despite voting to leave the denomination in 2007 over the ordination of openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

But Georgia’s highest court upheld by 6 -1 an appeals court ruling that the historic, $3 million property belongs to the Episcopal church and not its local members.

The majority opinion said 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, 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.

“In the end, it is fair to say, as the trial court did, that Christ Church can no more shrug off the trust, than the National Church could unilaterally import it. The trust has historical roots going back to the English church and the founding of the Episcopal Church in this country. Christ Church got the benefit of its bargain with the National Church for many years. The National Church has the right to insist on its part of the bargain as well.”

Episcopal Bishop Scott Benhase said in a prepared statement that the church is grateful the court upheld its legal right to the property but said that satisfaction was muted by the knowledge the decision was “painful for some of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Christ Church members have been meeting in another church for four years pending the outcome of their legal case. Leaders are now threatening to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The church at issue was founded in 1733 and is considered the “mother church of Georgia.” It’s located on Savannah’s historic Johnson Square on land designated by General James Oglethorpe.