An Episcopal congregation in Savannah that broke from the national church over the affirmation of a gay bishop in 2003 must give up its claim to a historic building, the George Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The court voted six to one to uphold the 2009 decision of a lower court that the national Episcopal Church holds claim to the 18th-century building occupied by Christ Church of Savannah, the oldest Episcopal congregation in Georgia, founded in 1733. The historic building on Bull Street is worth nearly $3 million, according to a summary reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Savannah congregation voted overwhelmingly to break from the Georgia Diocese four years ago and join an Anglican diocese in Uganda after the national Episcopal Church affirmed Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in New Hampshire almost a decade ago. The Georgia Diocese and the national Episcopal Church sued the local congregation, and sought a court order that the building and three related pieces of property were held in trust for the national church.
According to Reuters, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that "the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution '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.'"
Christ Church is considering whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Reuters. The congregation's lawyer Jim Gardner said that case concerns "fundamental property rights of individual congregations in hierarchical churches."
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