Why Virginia statute 57-9 is unconstitutional

The Virginia Supreme Court hears arguments tomorrow morning in the case of the Diocese of Virginia versus the breakaway parishes of the Anglican Church in North America. In this column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, G. Wilson Gunn, Jr., general presbyter of the National Capitol Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, USA, urges the court to rule in favor of the Diocese:

It is the sole right of any religious body to determine who is and who is not a member of that body. The challenge of determining membership is both vital and problematic for a church and each one follows the rules of its structure, where such exists. But ruling that this statute is constitutional puts the commonwealth in charge of determining who is a church member. So what does that mean for the future? It means that the commonwealth now will judge who is and who is not a member of a church. With this statute the state is the ultimate deciding body for any church experiencing a “division.”

Beyond membership lies another problem of particular relevance to the amici: Statute 57-9 discriminates against the way religious bodies discern the voice of God. The polity, or structure, of a church is always based upon and reflective of its understanding of its faith. Roman Catholics have a more monarchial approach: the bishop has clear authority in property matters. Baptists, by contrast, have authority lodged solely with the congregation. They can affiliate with or disaffiliate from any group they choose. But the amici churches practice a shared authority borne out of theological beliefs


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