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Story Of The Year: 2004

St. James Church following La Crescenta church case that could go to high court.

December 24, 2009|By Brianna Bailey

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the fifth in a series of the top stories of each year since 2000. Look for the 2005 story of the year Saturday.

In danger of losing its Balboa Peninsula church to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in a heated court battle, St. James Church is keeping its eyes on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court could take up a similar court case of an Anglican Church in La Crescenta that raises questions about property rights and freedom of religion.

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Like St. James, St. Luke’s Anglican Church in La Crescenta broke away from the Episcopal Church over theological differences. Both churches claim they have a right to keep their church buildings, but the diocese believes that the buildings belong to the Episcopal church.

Both St. James and St. Luke’s are now aligned with the Diocese of Western Anglicans. It includes 22 break-away churches scattered across California, Arizona, Idaho, Washington and Montana.

St. Luke’s has filed a writ, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up its property dispute with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. The court is expected to decide whether to hear St. Luke’s case in spring 2010.

In October, the Supreme Court declined to hear St. James’ case, because court proceedings on the matter are still ongoing in Orange County Superior Court.

St. James became one of three conservative Southern California parishes that placed themselves under the jurisdiction of an Anglican Ugandan bishop after the Episcopal Church consecrated a gay bishop in 2003. Other Episcopal bishops began sanctioning gay marriages about the same time. The break led to a highly publicized legal dispute over whether the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, or the St. James’ congregation, owned the white stucco church, which stands across the street from Newport Harbor on the Balboa Peninsula.

For now, St. James is keeping quiet. St. James’ rector, the Rev. Richard Crocker, has turned down all interview requests.

Attorney Eric Sohlgren, who represents the church, could not immediately be reached for comment this week.

“The principles at stake go to the very heart of what Americans hold dear — the right to own property without outside interference and the right to freely exercise one’s religion regardless of belief or faith group,” Sohlgren told the Daily Pilot earlier this year, after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the church’s plea to hear its case.


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