On July 18, the Minnesota State Supreme Court denied the petition from the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area (PTCA) to review the decision of 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.”
The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area had decided to appeal that ruling fearing that it “turns [the Presbyterian Church (USA)] into a congregational church, where each congregation has the freedom to pick and choose what it will and will not accept regarding church organization, government, and doctrine.”
In its presbytery report on why it was appealing, the PTCA’s Administrative Commission (AC) called the court’s decision “deeply disappointing, and we’re concerned about the impact it may have on our Minnesota congregations, our presbytery as a whole, our neighboring presbyteries in Minnesota, and the wider church. … We believe the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals potentially jeopardizes our presbytery’s authority to make decisions in the future regarding congregations who seek to leave. Additionally, we believe the decision may also place in jeopardy our foundational understanding that the Book of Order, in its entirety, applies to all members of the PCUSA.”
Therefore, the AC “decided unanimously to direct our attorney to prepare and file a Petition for Review of this decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court.”
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.