Anglican Churches Win on Constitutional Grounds – Va. Court Upholds Constitutionality of Virginia Division Statute to End Episcopal Attempt to Seize Control Over Church Property
FAIRFAX, Va. (June 27, 2008) – The 11 churches sued by The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia celebrated today’s Fairfax County Circuit Court ruling that confirms the constitutionality of Virginia Division Statute (Virginia Code § 57-9). The 11 churches named in the lawsuit are members of the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV).
“We are pleased with Judge Bellows’ ruling today. After meticulous examination, the judge ruled to uphold the constitutionality of the Virginia Division Statute against all of the Free Exercise, Establishment, Equal Protection, and Takings Clause challenges raised by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and Diocese of Virginia. The Division Statute states that the majority of the church is entitled to its property when a group of congregations divide from the denomination. Therefore, TEC and Diocese had no legal right to our property. We have maintained all along that our churches’ own trustees hold title for the benefit of these congregations. It’s also gratifying to see the judge recognize that the statute means what it says—it’s ‘conclusive’ of ownership. We’re thrilled to see this litigation nearing an end,” said Jim Oakes, vice-chairman of ADV.
“While there are some issues that remain to be resolved and we will continue to defend ourselves in court, we are hopeful that TEC and the Diocese will put aside this expensive distraction. While we disagree with their decision to walk apart from the worldwide Anglican Communion, we acknowledge their right to do so. We would hope that they would acknowledge our right to remain faithful to the tenants of faith that have given comfort to our forbearers who built the churches TEC and the Diocese are now trying so hard to take.”
On April 3, 2008, Judge Bellows issued a landmark ruling that acknowledged a division within TEC, the Diocese and the larger Anglican Communion.
TEC and the Diocese abruptly broke off settlement negotiations in January 2007 and filed lawsuits against the Virginia churches, their ministers and their vestries. The decision of TEC and the Diocese to reinterpret Scripture caused the 11 Anglican churches to sever their ties.
UPDATE: Here’s the Diocese of Virginia’s Press Release:
June 27, 2008
Today’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Division Statute in Virginia is regrettable and reaches beyond the Episcopal Church to all hierarchical churches in the Commonwealth. We continue to believe that this Division Statute is clearly at odds with and uniquely hostile to religious freedom, the First Amendment and prior U.S. and Virginia Supreme Court rulings. We are unwavering in these beliefs and will explore fully every option available to restore constitutional and legal protections for all churches in Virginia.
The Diocese remains steadfast in its commitment to current and future generations of loyal Episcopalians and will continue to pursue every legal option available to ensure that they will be able to worship in the churches their Episcopal ancestors built.