Anglican churches win on Constitutional grounds


The 11 churches sued by The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia celebrated Friday’s Fairfax County Circuit Court ruling that confirms the constitutionality of Virginia Division Statute.  The 11 churches named in the lawsuit are members of the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV). 

“We are pleased with Judge Bellows’ ruling today,” said Anglican District vice chair Jim Oakes.  

After 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,” Oakes said. “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 saysit’s ‘conclusive’ of ownership.  We’re thrilled to see this litigation nearing an end. 

Oakes said that while there are some issues that remain to be resolved, “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 tenets 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.