FAIRFAX, Va. (February 3, 2009) – In response to the appeal filed today by The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia, the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) called for an end to the two year Virginia church property litigation. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Bellows issued his final rulings in December. The rulings were in favor of the nine ADV congregations and found that each has a legal right to their church property.
“Judge Bellows upheld the written law, correctly applied the Constitution, and was judicious in his rulings throughout this legal process. We hoped that TEC and the Diocese would recognize this and would have put this legal battle behind us,” said Jim Oakes, vice-chairman of ADV. “We are saddened that The Episcopal Church and the Diocese find it necessary to continue with more litigation. An appeal process will cost additional millions of dollars that could be spent on mission and ministry. Both sides have already spent some $5 million in legal costs, money that could have gone to our communities in need during these tough economic times. Although we are disappointed by this development, we are fully prepared to continue to defend ourselves and remain confident in our legal position.
“These legal victories for religious freedom have encouraged us to stand firm in our Anglican faith. Our congregations will continue to work together delivering the message of Christ. All we have ever wanted to do is continue to worship and serve God in the same tradition as our ancestors and the worldwide Anglican Communion.”
On December 19, 2008, the Anglican District of Virginia congregations received favorable final rulings regarding whether four parcels of property owned by the Anglican congregations were covered by the congregations’ Division petitions. (TEC and the Diocese had previously acknowledged that the congregations’ other properties were all covered by the congregations’ Division petitions.)
On April 3, 2008, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows issued a landmark ruling that acknowledged a division within The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Virginia and the larger Anglican Communion. Judge Bellows affirmed that the Anglican congregations in Virginia could invoke the Virginia Division Statute (Virginia Code § 57-9) in their defense. The Virginia Division Statute states that majority rule should apply when a division in a denomination or diocese results in the disaffiliation of an organized group of congregations. On June 27, 2008, Judge Bellows issued a ruling that confirmed the constitutionality of Virginia Division Statute (Virginia Code § 57-9) under the First Amendment. On August 22, 2008, he issued a ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the Division Statute under the Contracts Clause of the Constitution.
“We continue to maintain that the Division Statute is constitutional and are confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will agree and uphold the written law. At the same time, we are ready to put this litigation behind us so we can focus our time, money and effort on the work of the Gospel,” Oakes concluded.
The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Diocese abruptly broke off settlement negotiations with the Anglican congregations in January 2007 and filed lawsuits against the Virginia churches, their ministers and their vestries. The decision of The Episcopal Church and the Diocese to redefine and reinterpret Scripture caused the Anglican churches in Virginia to sever their ties with TEC and the Virginia Diocese.