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Diocese of Virginia Appeals to Virginia Supreme Court in Order to Protect Religious Liberty in the Commonwealth


Determined to restore constitutional and legal protections for all churches in Virginia, and to return loyal Episcopalians in Virginia to their Episcopal homes, the Diocese of Virginia today filed a petition to appeal The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, et al.

The Diocese is appealing on a number of grounds, including a challenge to the constitutionality of Virginia’s one-of-a-kind division statute (Va. Code § 57 9(A)) and the rulings of the Circuit Court in applying the law.

According to the filing several key issues – issues that impact people of faith throughout Virginia – are at stake:

  • Whether it is constitutional for a court to impose a congregational majority rule requirement on hierarchical churches, against their faith and traditions;
  • Whether “neutral principles” should be used for resolving property disputes between congregations and denominations; and
  • Whether property may be held in trust for hierarchical churches.

The petition asks the Supreme Court to undertake review of the Circuit Court's final judgment in this matter - a judgment that awarded Episcopal churches to those who, regrettably, have chosen to leave the Episcopal church over doctrinal disputes. The Diocese will argue for reversal of the lower court's rulings regarding the Division Statute with two goals in mind: the restoration of Episcopal congregations to their church homes and the restoration of the long-cherished freedom in Virginia for churches to organize and govern themselves according to their beliefs.

UPDATE: April 9, 2009

On Wednesday, April 8, several national churches, local judicatories and our two sister Episcopal dioceses in Virginia filed Amici Curiae—or “friend of the court”—briefs in support of both the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia’s April 7 petitions to the Supreme Court of Virginia to appeal the rulings of the lower Circuit Court. The Diocese is grateful that these churches have joined us in recognizing that the 57-9 Division Statute threatens the religious liberties of all denominations in Virginia.

The amici are:

  •     The General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church;
  •     Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.);
  •     The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church;
  •     The African Methodist Episcopal Church;
  •     The Rt. Rev. Charlene Kammerer, Bishop of the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church;
  •     The Rev. Dr. G. Wilson Gunn, Jr., General Presbyter National Capital Presbytery;
  •     Elder Donald F. Bickhart, Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Eastern Virginia;
  •     The Metro DC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;
  •     The Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia;
  •     The Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia.

The CANA congregations must file a response to the Virginia Supreme Court by May 1, 2009.  The Virginia Supreme Court will consider the petitions for appeal during an upcoming Writ Panel (July 14, August 26, October 21 or December 9, 2009).

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