In July, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied a similar petition from the presbytery to review the decision the Minnesota Court of Appeals in favor of Prairie Community Church of Twin Cities (formerly known as Eden Prairie Presbyterian Church).
The Court of Appeals’ April 24 decision upheld the March 24, 2016 ruling by the Fourth Judicial District Court, which concluded that the Prairie Community Church of Twin Cities “owns the disputed property and that the disputed property is not held in trust for the PCUSA, and the PTCA and PCUSA have no legal interest in the disputed property.”
AC Report to Presbytery
The presbytery-appointed Administrative Commission announced its unanimous decision to petition the U.S. Supreme Court at the Sept. 12 presbytery meeting.
“This was not an easy decision for any of us. It was made, not through disappointment or anger, but rather a commitment to the PCUSA and our commitment to who we are as a church. We believe the court rulings go beyond a single church, a single property, or a single presbytery. We believe the Minnesota courts have failed to allow the presbytery and the PCUSA to govern ourselves without interference,” the AC’s report said.
It continued that the decision was based on several facts:
“First, we remain unsure of the effect of the MN court rulings, both on churches in this presbytery as well as PCUSA churches within Minnesota, and even churches in other states or other denominations. Part of that can, and must, be addressed by holding churches and elders accountable to our polity and to their ordination vows. But that action alone does not address what other parts of the PCUSA Constitution are vulnerable to civil court scrutiny.
“Secondly, we believe that this is a question of our fundamental freedom to govern ourselves as a church. It is a question of our identity as a denomination; our commitment to our ordination vows; and of our faith in and significance of our Constitution.
“Third is our belief that it is our responsibility, as part of the connectional church, to attempt to clarify the position of the courts on the property trust clause. Yes, we could wait for another presbytery or another denomination to ask SCOTUS for this clarification, but with our status at this point in time, we have the opportunity, perhaps duty, to pursue this avenue of appeal. We may not succeed in our petition to have the court hear our case this time, but we will have raised the issue before the court, and that could be an influence on a similar case in the future.”
The legal work will be done by the New York law firm Weil Gotshal, “which has agreed to serve as the lead counsel in the appeal to SOCTUS on a pro bono basis,” the report said. “Weil Gotshal has been involved in several cases in the PCUSA and knows our polity very well.”
Court of Appeals decision
The Court of Appeals ruled that the District Court was correct when it applied neutral principles of law. Under neutral principles, the court bases its decision in neutral, secular principles, looking at official documents such as property deeds and state statutes.
The court’s decision stated that while the church had created an express trust when it modified its articles of incorporation in 1999, it had also retained the right to modify the documents by a majority vote of the active church members at a properly called congregational meeting.
So, in 2010, when the church voted to remove all references to the trust and the PCUSA from its Articles of Incorporation, “it was within its rights.”
“Thus, EPPC retained the power to revoke the trust and properly revoked the trust by removing all trust language in 2010,” it read.