The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia today announced its opposition to the Attorney General’s intervention in the ongoing cases being heard in Virginia courts. What’s particularly notable is that it’s not just the Episcopal diocese that’s speaking out—the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is weighing in, as is the Bishop of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, citing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and the trust clause.
In stating their opposition, the Diocese and the Church noted that the Commonwealth had failed to meet the requirements that govern intervention in such a dispute and that the state “lacks any right or interest in the subject matter,” namely the property unlawfully occupied by individuals in the CANA breakaway congregations. The Diocese and the Church raised no objections, however, to the Attorney General filing an amicus curiae or friend of the court brief on the matter of the constitutionality of section 57-9 of the Code of Virginia which is at issue at this stage in the case.
The Diocese and the Episcopal Church have argued that it would be unconstitutional for the court to apply section 57-9 in such a way to rule that a division had occurred within the Diocese or the denomination at large. Such a ruling would be an unconstitutional intrusion by the state into the affairs, doctrine and polity of a hierarchical church.
A trial was held in November on the interpretation and application of that section of the Code of Virginia. The judge has not yet issued a ruling. The third and final post-trial brief ordered by the judge also was filed today.
The briefs by the diocese and by the CANA congregations are available here, at the bottom of the page under “post-trial briefs” and “Attorney General Moves to Intervene”.
In the Diocese’s statement, they note the recent precedent set by Judith Williams Jadgmann, who was Attorney General in 2005 when she notified then-State Sen. Bill Mims that “Constitutional principles dictate the least possible involvement of the state in church matters.” Mims, who is now Deputy Attorney General of the commonwealth, was trying to change a key piece of legislation that would allow churches departing a larger body to take their property with them—and was, at the time, senior warden of a church mission that has since “quit the Episcopal church.”
You can read the entire statement under the extended entry here.