A Round Up of links on the Virginia Court Ruling

Given that there are new articles and press releases, etc. being released frequently, and the potential significance of the story, we thought it would be helpful to provide a roundup of all the Virginia court ruling links in one place. We’ll keep updating this periodically:

Primary Source documents: Court Ruling and Press Releases or Letters

The Court Ruling: [Stand Firm has a PDF here]

The Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) Press Release:

The Diocese of Virginia Press Release:

The CANA Press Release:

The Presiding Bishop’s Statement:

A letter from the Rev. John Yates, rector of the Falls Church

A letter from Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee

Articles / Analysis / Commentary: (in the order we came across them)

The main T19 comment thread is here

Stand Firm — long comment thread is here.

Washington Times:
Va. judge sides with breakaway Episcopal parishes, By Julia Duin

Washington Post:
Judge’s Initial Decision Favors Breakaway Churches, By Michelle Boorstein
[note BabyBlue has an important bit of background on this article here (Patrick Getlein used to be the Communications Director for the Diocese of VA)]

Ruth Gledhill (The London Times)

Christianity Today:
Big Win for Va.’s Breakaway Anglican Parishes in Property Fight, by Sheryl Henderson Blunt

Episcopal News Service:
Virginia judge issues preliminary ruling on application of state statute, by Mary Frances Schjonberg

“The Lead” (one of the primary reappraising TEC blogs)

Thinking Anglicans (a reappraising blog from the UK) which provides a roundup of links and some commentary

The Living Church: Favoring Parishes, Virginia Judge Cites ”˜Division of First Magnitude’

Reuters: US judge rules for Episcopal Church secessionists, By Michael Conlon

The Institute on Religion and Democracy

Brad Drell (Louisiana attorney and Anglican Blogger at Drell’s Descants)

David Trimble (an attorney in KY, and Anglican blogger at Still on Patrol)

Hills of the North (a Georgia attorney)

Bishop David Anderson of the AAC (via Anglican Mainstream)

Note: BabyBlue’s blog is, of course, one of the best places to keep up with the news as it happens, since BabyBlue is directly connected to the story, being a member of Truro, one of the ADV congregations.

Feel free to add other links in the comments. We’ll update this as we are able.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Latest News, - Anglican: Primary Source, -- Statements & Letters: Bishops, CANA, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Virginia, TEC Departing Parishes

21 comments on “A Round Up of links on the Virginia Court Ruling

  1. The_Elves says:

    We’ve added links since first publishing this.

    Added links are:
    Living Church news story
    Reuters news story
    IRD commentary

    (see above for links)

  2. The_Elves says:

    More links added, the blog entries of two Anglican bloggers — both of whom are attorneys:

    Brad Drell (Drell’s Descants)
    David Trimble (Still on Patrol)

    See links in the main entry

  3. Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) says:

    You might want to consider adding Hills of the North. HoN is an attorney blog as well.

    I’ve posted on it, but not really any sort of commentary in depth. I’m an attorney as well.

    [Perhaps that’s the root problem with the Anglican Communion, too many attorneys?]

  4. The_Elves says:

    Thanks Mousestalker. Oddly enough, Hills of the North’s post on this didn’t show up in our RSS feed earlier. [later: it’s there now, just a slight delay, I guess]

    By the way, we expect be adding both [url=http://billyockham.blogspot.com/]your blog[/url] and [url=http://hillsofthenorth.blogspot.com/]Hills of the North[/url] to the sidebar (assuming Kendall’s approval, of course!) when we do a long overdue (!) update of the sidebar soon. (Probably in another 2 – 3 weeks, though possibly quite a bit sooner, it will depend on our schedule and how quickly some important work tasks get finished.)

  5. BCP28 says:

    The question is whether or not the courts will uphold the VA statute and constitutional. If they do not, the ruling today is moot. Either that, or there will be some real legal chaos.

  6. BCP28 says:

    sorry, that should say “as constitutional.”

  7. w.w. says:

    Kendall and elves,

    Thank you for pulling all these links together in one place. A GREAT service to all of us who are following these developments. Many thanks and much appreciation. Good job!


  8. Steven in Falls Church says:

    The Diocesan news release has a slightly misleading statement that has been picked up by various news articles, including the New York Times article on the ruling today, as follows:

    Judge Bellows did not decide who would be awarded the property, which will be argued in October.

    If the Virginia division statute applies–and is deemed to be constitutional and the parishes properly voted–the property trial is unnecessary because the recordation of each parishes’ vote under the division statute is dispositive as to ownership. If Judge Bellows turns down the constitutional challenge to the statute he may postpone the property ownership phase of the trial pending the outcome of appeals on the issue. Remember that after conclusion of the division phase trial proceedings last fall the Diocese and TEC wanted to move immediately into the next phase of the trial and asked to proceed with massive discovery requests on the breakaway parishes. Judge Bellows turned down that request, scheduling proceedings for later this year.

  9. Steven in Falls Church says:

    Time Magazine has a brief article on the ruling, which contains this helpful bit:

    As a sizeable minority of conservative congregations leaves Episcopalianism, the struggle over who gets hundreds of millions of dollars of church property is becoming more and more intense. Passions range so high that the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the head of the national Episcopal body, in effect indicated during discovery in the Virginia case that she would rather see the churches sold and deconsecrated for secular purposes than passed on to the departing congregations.

    It’s wonderful how a little bit of discovery forced upon you by your own lawsuit ends up giving you bad press. You brought this upon yourself, Katie.

  10. Steven in Falls Church says:

    Elves–The link to the Washington Post above now goes to an updated version of the article that appeared yesterday, and the quote from the interfaith policy group that Patrick Getlein joined no longer appears in this updated version. This updated article is also what appears in today’s print edition of the Post, BTW.

  11. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) says:

    Will one of you con-law types please help us out here?

    How do you go from “[i][b]Congress[/b] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;[/i]” to overturning a Virginia [b]state statute[/b] regarding relative property rights in the case of a “division” ?

    I could understand at least looking at it under the Virginia constitution, but that’s not what Schori said, speaking instead of ECUSA’s “First Amendment rights” and setting that constitutional challenge as the basis of 815’s next move. Do they not have a “plain language” problem of the first order here?

  12. Invicta says:

    #11 Bart.
    Of course they have a plain language problem. Plain talk gives no room for obfuscation, and that’s their problem.

  13. Cennydd says:

    “Obfuscation?” More like Obfuscatory Episcobabble.

  14. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) says:

    On checking the Virginia Constitution [url=http://vlex.com/vid/319634]Article I[/url], things would look (at best) only marginally better for the 815 crowd.

    Said article includes the following language:
    [blockquote][i]it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.[/i][/blockquote]

    [blockquote][i]the General Assembly shall not prescribe any religious test whatever, or confer any peculiar privileges or advantages on any sect or denomination,[/i][/blockquote]

  15. Choir Stall says:

    “she would rather see the churches sold and deconsecrated for secular purposes than passed on to the departing congregations”.
    (Time Magazine Article)

    The election of Katherine Jefferts Schori was the “work of the Holy Spirit” (Neff Powell – Mitered Leader of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia).
    Oh, how easily bishops are made!

  16. Albany* says:

    We have had real help here from lawyers on the page. Thanks. Would someone sum up the meat an potatoes? In particular:

    1. What exactly is the Federal vs State matter here?
    2. How many more stages and what in particular needs to happen now to settle the actual property issues?
    3. How, if at all, does this case speak to others pending outside Virginia?
    4. Does 815 suffer a total loss everywhere if it losses the Federal question? And what exactly is that question?


  17. The_Elves says:

    Hi all, sorry not to have done any more updates earlier. Been offline since last night.

    #10, thanks for the heads up re: the Washington Post story. Here’s the original text with the quote from the Virginia Interfaith Center (where Patrick Getlein works) as published on BabyBlue’s blog, and BabyBlue’s opening commentary (in italics):

    [blockquote][i]NOTE: The Washington Post quotes comments from a political organization called the “Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.” That is the organization that the Secretary of the Diocese of Virginia, Patrick Getlein, has just joined as a key staff member. His responsibilities there include directing the organization’s strategic communications. Watch that space very carefully.[/i]

    From here.

    By Michelle Boorstein
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, April 4, 2008; 1:56 PM

    A Fairfax County judge has given an initial victory to conservatives from 11 Virginia churches who voted to break from the Episcopal Church and keep tens of millions of dollars in buildings and land.

    The decision is a first step in a multi-trial case and does not settle who gets the properties. It applies to Virginia only but gives a morale boost to a national movement that believes there has been an un-Biblical liberal slant in the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The decades-old dispute exploded in 2004, when New Hampshire ordained a gay bishop.

    In the decision issued last night, Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows said he agreed with the breakaway churches — which are primarily in Northern Virginia — that their votes to leave in late 2006 and early 2007 constituted a legal “division” in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia under a Civil War-era statute.

    The diocese and the national church had argued that the votes were of a minority of dissenters and that the diocese owns the church properties. They also argue that the state law is unconstitutional, as it lets the government tell a religious denomination how to govern its affairs.

    Bellows agreed in his decision to hear arguments in May related to whether the state law is constitutional or not. The court, he wrote, “does not decide today any issue related to the constitutionality” of the law.

    The path to a conclusion is unclear, as a fall trial is scheduled to hear the diocese’s broader lawsuit against the breakaway congregations. That lawsuit demands that the congregations vacate the properties and asks the judge to affirm that the land and churches belong to the diocese.

    Scott Ward, an attorney for several of the congregations, noted that the state statute calls itself “conclusive” and said that might ultimately render a fall trial unnecessary.

    But Henry Burt, a spokesman for the diocese, said his side believes that ownership of church property is determined by other things, including a denomination’s laws and deeds and the history of how the property has been managed and controlled over time.

    Some faith groups said the ruling could impact other religious organizations in Virginia. The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy called it “chilling.”

    “The court has ruled that a splinter group of disgruntled former members can divide an autonomous, self-governed, hierarchically structured religious denomination against the denomination’s will,” wrote the Rev. Doug Smith, executive director of the group, in a statement. He said he was in dialogue with Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist leaders, among others, about the ruling.[/blockquote]

  18. JWirenius says:

    #11 (Bart Hall)–the answer to your question is simple: incorporation of the guarantees of the First Amendment as against the states by the Fourteenth, first noted in [i]Gitlow v. New York[/i], 268 U.S. 652 (1925). In Establishment Clause cases, it dates back to [i]Everson v. Bd. of Educ.[/i], 330 U.S. 1 (1947). For over 60 years, the Supreme Court has held in an unbroken chain of precedent that the states cannot make laws respecting an establishment or religion any more than can Congress–nor can they inhibit its free exercise.
    As one who would be called here a card-carrying reappraiser, I deplore the attempted seccession of these parishes from TEC. That said, I believe that Judge Bellows has it half right–the division statute, if constitutional would apply here, in that a “division” need not, by ordinary principles of statutory interpretation, be defined as limited to a schism that is recognized by the leadership of the church in question–did Rome recognize Luther? I do think the inclusion of the Anglican Communion as a “religious society” is a bridge too far, however, and does not hold water. This error, as I see it, would not be outcome determinative.
    The real question is whether the statute is constitutional. Because it limits the ways in which churches are able to hold their property, and purports to disregard certain forms of church governance absent a compelling state interest, I believe it probably is not–but I add the “probably” because we are in jurisprudentially murky waters.

  19. MJD_NV says:

    I am glad for this really and really feel that this decision will be the clincher. The constitutional argument is weak – this is not infringing upon rights. It is a 140 year old law that says when religious battling gets so bad that it’s going to be spilling into the Commonwealth courts anyway, the Commonwealth reserves the right to adjudicate such a matter under principals of neutral law.

    The truly sad part about this case is that the whole thing could have been avoided. The Diocese could have been flush, the split an amicable witness, and the divisions within VA on their way to healing if Peter Lee had simply put his foot down and denied 815’s involvement.

    I pray that he can now see the error of his ways.

  20. vulcanhammer says:

    It had to happen: these property matters are generating interest elsewhere, [url=http://thechurchofgodhasnofuture.blogspot.com/2008/04/property-ownership-part-3.html]as you can see here[/url].

  21. ragavendra says:

    seems very extra ordinary ,because you did not even loose a bits or pieces of the happenings and proceedings of the court in the links.

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