By Mary O’KEEFE
St. Luke’s Anglican Church will once again be heading for court if the United States Supreme Court agrees to hear its case.
On Wednesday the church attorneys filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States “asking them to decide whether California courts violated the U.S. Constitution by conferring on The Episcopal Church and its Diocese in L.A. a special power — not available to nonreligious persons or nondenominational churches — to seize its property and take over its corporation based on its religious affiliation,” according to a statement released by the church.
“It will look at the first amendment of the constitution,” said Eric Sohlgren, St. Luke’s Anglican attorney.
The property in question is the stone church at 2563 Foothill Blvd. The structure has been a foothills landmark for 85 years. It had been the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church until 2006 when members of the then Episcopal congregation voted to leave the L.A. Diocese. They aligned themselves under the jurisdiction of Uganda Anglican Church and became St. Luke’s Anglican Church. The vote to leave the diocese came shortly after the election of the first openly gay bishop elected in 2003 to serve as bishop of New Hampshire.
At the time Father Ron Jackson, the minister at St. Luke’s Episcopal, said the vote away from the diocese was not only because of the gay bishop but a disagreement with the overall direction of the church.
The Episcopal and Anglican churches battled it out in court for the next three years. The Anglicans were ruled against in the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One but appealed to the California Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the congregation’s request for review therefore upholding the earlier ruling. The Anglican congregation waited until the U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing a similar case regarding St. James Church in Newport Beach. Judge John S. Wiley set a date of Oct. 12 for the Anglican congregation to vacate the Foothill Boulevard church. St. Luke’s Anglican moved out and St. Luke’s Episcopal moved back in.
At the time, Father Rob Holman of St. Luke’s Anglican was not certain what the congregation’s next move would be or if indeed a next move was planned.
“They decided to go [ahead to the Supreme Court],” Sohlgren said.
The argument the church hopes to bring to the Court is that the congregation’s corporation’s name is on the deed.
Sohlgren said about 40 years ago the Episcopal Diocese had the local congregations take ownership of their own buildings.
“Under the corporate code even if the board of directors had wanted to transfer the property to the L.A. Diocese they would have been required to get a vote of all of their members,” he said.
The first hurdle is to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case. Sohlgren said he is optimistic.
Attempts to reach representatives of the L.A. Diocese were unsuccessful at press time.