On Tuesday afternoon, I heard an NPR story about a legal battle in Virginia that reminded me of some cases that will be heard by the Texas Supreme Court this fall.
The Texas cases are Masterson v. Dicocese of Northwest Texas, No. 11-0332, and The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth v. The Episcopal Church, No. 11-0265 (direct appeal). Both involve questions about how to divide property when a local diocese splits from a national church organization — and how the First Amendment might limit the ability of Texas courts to speak to these questions.
The Virginia lawsuit actually ended about two years ago with The Protestant Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, 694 S.E.2d 555 (Va. 2010). The court there sided with the umbrella entity (the “hierarchical church”), concluding as a matter of Virginia statutory law that the requirements to show a property division had not been established. For that reason, the Virginia court did not reach the federal constitutional question.
The NPR story isn’t strictly a legal story — there’s no discussion of the merits of the suit. The focus is on how the Virginia lawsuit has affected congregations on both sides of the suit as they now try to disentangle their property and move forward.