Diocese of Virginia has more “friends” in court

From the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, which is locked in a legal battle over church property with breakway congregations:

Over the past four days, eight more religious denominations and judicatories, as well as the two other Virginia Episcopal dioceses have asked the Court to allow them to join the Amici Curiae brief supporting the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in recognizing that the §57-9 division statute is unconstitutional. All churches in Virginia are threatened by this statute, which discriminates against hierarchical churches in favor of congregational ones, in violation of their faith and the right of churches to structure and govern themselves based on their religious beliefs. All churches in Virginia must have the right to structure themselves according to their faith beliefs without the intrusion of the government.

The following denominations joined the Amici brief on May 12 and 15, 2008:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), by Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church

The General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists

The National Capital Presbytery, by The Rev. Dr. G. Wilson Gunn, Jr., General Presbyter

The Presbytery of Eastern Virginia, by Elder Donald F. Bickhart, Stated Clerk

The Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Metropolitan Washington DC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Virlina District Board—Church of the Brethren, Inc.

The Mid-Atlantic II Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia

The Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia

They join the following denominations, which filed the Amici Curiae brief on April 24, 2008:

The United Methodist Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

The Worldwide Church of God

The Rt. Rev. Charlene Kammerer, Bishop of the Virginia Council of the United Methodist Church

W. Clark Williams, Chancellor of the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Of especial note, the Seventh-day Adventists, despite not being directly threatened by the statute, recognize the dangers inherent in the law, namely “the ultimate and very real danger posed to all religious groups if the legislature is permitted to resolve property rights by reference to inherently religious criteria, much less to ‘defer’ to the rules of some religious groups but not others.” (Motion for Leave to Join Brief of Amicus Curiae, page 3)

As the Episcopal Dioceses of Southern and Southwestern Virginia point out in their filing, “A statute that singles out the legally binding organizational documents and property arrangements of churches whose property is titled in trustees, and permits a court to invalidate those provisions on grounds not applicable to other types of religious or secular organizations or entities, cannot pass Constitutional muster.” (Motion of the Dioceses of Southern Virginia and Southwestern Virginia for Leave to Join Amici Brief, page 6).

By making these filings, these denominations and dioceses support the Diocese of Virginia’s and the Episcopal Church’s argument that matters of faith, governance and doctrine are to be free from government interference. This statute is clearly at odds with and uniquely hostile to the concept of religious freedom. We hope that the Court will recognize that the statute is an attack on America’s First Freedom and thus unconstitutional.

To read these motions in their entirety, visit http://www.thediocese.net/press/pressroom.shtml and click on “Property Dispute.”

Direct access to Property Dispute page here. Scroll to the end for latest briefs.

ENS provides further background to this story. See also our story on the scheduled trial that appeared earlier this week.

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