Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oh, for Pete's sake

BB NOTE: So much for the People's freedom to vote under the law. Thousands of Virginians voted under the law of the land and as we are reminded in the original Standstill Agreement between the Diocese of Virginia and those eleven churches that voted, that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia agreed that the churches "may report their congregations determinations by filing a petition/report with the relevant VA Circuit Courts pursuant to Va. Code 57-9 without violating the agreement."

Which is of course, all we did.

For a few days, the Diocese and TEC appeared to respect the integrity and liberty of Virginians to vote under the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia and to record those votes. Now the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia were unable to continue the facade that all is well and to deny the freedom of an overwhelming majority to exercising their religious liberty to follow their own conscience and vote as the Virginia Protocol itself outlined. In doing this very difficult thing, Judge Bellows recognized that there had been:
"the creation of a level of distress among many church members so profound and wrenching as to lead them to cast votes in an attempt to disaffiliate from a church which has been their home and heritage throughout their lives, and often back for generations."
That's religious freedom. It was profound and wrenching and it still is. TEC has demonstrated over and over that it cares very little about the religious freedom of all its people or to respect their votes under the law. Just as they do in General Convention, when they don't like something in Scripture or the Canons, they just throw it out. And if that doesn't work, they reimagined it to say something different than what it meant when it was written in order to satisfy their own political agenda - which is what led to the division in the first place.

Now The Episcopal Church attempts to do the same thing with the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Here is what the Commonwealth of Virginia says about these claims made by the Episcopal Church:
Ignoring the clear text, blurring the distinction between intentional discrimination and disparate impact, advocating hypothetical claims of parties not before the Court, and twisting existing constitutional doctrine, they insist that § 57-9 infringes upon the rights of “hierarchical churches” in violation of both the Virginia and National Constitutions.

The Episcopal Church and amici are simply wrong.

The text of § 57-9 does not distinguish between Christianity and other religions or between the Episcopal Church and other Christian denominations. Nor does it distinguish between denominations that use a hierarchical form of government and those that use other forms of government. As the Episcopal Church concedes, “[h]ierarchical denominations hold local church property by a variety of means, including in the name of trustees, in congregations• corporate names, in the name of the Bishop of the Diocese, and in the name of the mother church or its Presiding Bishop.” Diocese Supplemental Const. Br. at 24 (parentheticals omitted). Similarly churches that use other forms of government may choose to hold property by a variety of means, including in the name of trustees. Rather, § 57-9 simply mandates a method of resolving church property disputes if the church property is held by trustees. Its application may be avoided simply by choosing a different means of holding property. As long as churches are allowed to choose among a variety of methods of holding property, § 57-9 does not establish religion, inhibit the free exercise of religion, violate equal protection, or impair contracts that existed prior to 1867.

Rather, it provides a straightforward mechanism to determine how certain church property disputes should be resolved. Section 57-9 is constitutional as applied to the Episcopal Church in this litigation.
Read the rest here.

We do remember where the former Secretary of the Diocese, Patrick Getlein, went to work after leaving Mayo House. Of course, he hasn't actually left Mayo House. But he's been busy. Wonder why the Roman Catholic Church is no where to be found? Perhaps because they took the time to put all their church trusts in the name of their bishop, because if the bishop wants to own the property in Virginia he has to put the property in his name, there are no implied trusts in Virginia. If the Diocese of Virginia wanted to own everything, why didn't the bishop order all the parishes to transfer their property to him? Oops. Thousands of Virginians exercised their religious freedom to vote and that's what we did, overwhelmingly, according to the law. The judge has now ruled we satisfied the law. Members who belong to the churches listed in this press release may want to consider carefully the dim view their own leadership takes of the personal liberty of their own individual members. They are protecting the corporate structure over the conscience of individual members. It's as though they want us to know we're no longer in Virginia, but reside in the Hotel California.

The following released this afternoon by the Diocese of Virginia:

More Hierarchical Denominations Support Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in Amici Filing

May 15, 2008

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 Amici 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.



BB NOTE: There is just so much that is wrong with this release that even Thomas Jefferson must be spinning in his grave - we can only imagine what he might have thought of multi-million dollar religious corporations using the Bill of Rights as a baseball bat.

The statements in this "press release" are statements written by political activists, it just breathtakingly over-reaching and designed for political purposes, not the purposes of law. They've put together a coalition of religious corporations that have nothing to do with the current issue - they did not appear at the trial last fall, they weren't involved in the opinion, they don't have parishes voting to separate, nothing. Here they are being wrapped up together for the publicity. The illogic of this press release is also just simply stunning - how could these other denominations get roped into this? For example, if a church decides to offer up children for sacrifice to their gods as part of their devout religious observance, I supposed that the Episcopal Church and these amici-church corporations must now side with the child sacrificers because we can't have "the government" poking its nose into our bloody business - is that it? Talk about "uniquely hostile." Pass me the Bill of Rights.

As we recall, George Mason was also once a member of the Truro Parish Vestry. We don't think he had multi-million dollar religious corporations on his mind. Nope. And neither did Patrick Henry and all the other Virginians who actually put their life, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line to get the Bill of Rights included into the U.S. Constitution. And just remember who wrote the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom.

Looks like it's time to spin another tune:


7 comments:

Steven in Falls Church said...

Yawn.

Kevin said...

While I seriously HATE the victim claim (though much better stated, I can live with how DioVA wrote it without writing the bishop again), I do give them kudos, for this is shrewed strategically for their position (unprofessional, so that the arm-chair lawyering for what it's worth [nothing, you paid nothing so I guess it's what it's worth], but thinking it's a long term move [DioVA already thinking appellate court]).

Anonymous said...

A list of denominations whose days, like TEC's, are also numbered.

RalphM

Steven in Falls Church said...

Copies of the amici briefs do not appear to be available on line yet. However, I would not be surprised if the briefs are largely duplicative of each other if not also what is in TEC's and the Diocese's briefs. The reason amici are allowed to submit briefs is to provide the court with a point of view or legal arguments that are not represented in the arguments submitted by the parties in interest. While courts are generally permissive in allowing amici to submit briefs, at some point amici will be barred if their briefs are only an effective extension of the page limit of the briefs submitted by the actual parties in interest, or if the amici briefs just say the same thing over and over again. The CANA parishes should push to get at least some of the amici briefs bounced. If successful that dents TEC's media campaign. If unsuccessful CANA's arguments will at least show to the judge how little the amici briefs actually add to the case (remember, this case will be won on the law and the facts, not the press campaign). I would guess that the judge and his clerk are unhappy to be bombarded with briefs that say the same thing, especially in this case where there is a reasonable suspicion that TEC has been coordinating some of the effort.

ettu said...

"In my opinion", we have no way of knowing how duplicative these briefs are and, in any case, they are coming from churches with different histories and perspectives - perhaps best exemplified by the Seventh Day Adventist amicus curiae brief since the Adventists are not in the same hierarchy boat yet feel threatened by the general principles of the case.

Anonymous said...

There is only one amici brief. It has already been accepted by the Court, and it is online at the Diocese's property dispute page (at the top of the News Room).

Steven in Falls Church said...

Thanks for the clarification. It's not even a brief but a joint motion to join the amicus brief already submitted. This was the right way to do it.