Oklahoma legislators meddle in church property issues

From the Oklahoman comes a story similar to a story we recently reported on in Texas. It seems Republican legislators are eager to let people breaking away from religious denominations take the denomination’s property with them, even if the denomination’s internal laws prohibit that.

A large group of church leaders is battling proposed legislation targeting church property rights. They say the measure would cost millions of dollars in property loss and litigation costs.

Leaders of the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, United Methodist, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Presbyterian denominations, along with the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, on Wednesday sent a letter of “unequivocal” opposition to the state legislators who authored House Bill 1725 and Senate Bill 816.

State Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, authored SB 816 and state Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, authored HB 1725.

Stanislawski said his bill is designed to “define property rights in Oklahoma so that if people in Oklahoma, whether in a church or some other nonprofit, sign on a deed for the land, they own the land. If they ever separate from the parent organization, they own the land.”

However, church leaders said the proposed legislation, “although appearing innocent in nature” would effectively void church doctrine in favor of state mandated rules.

One difference is that in Oklahoma, the Episcopal bishop is fighting the legislation, whereas in Texas, the bill was introduced at the request of a priest who is a close ally of the Bishop of Dallas, James Stanton. Stanton’s suffragan bishop, Paul Lambert, when given a chance to oppose the bill publicly, did not do so.

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