Virginia Supreme Court Rules for Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia
The Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion on June 10, 2010 in favor of The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia. The decision addressed a dispute over the property of nine parishes whose leaders had left The Episcopal Church and had affiliated with the Anglican Province of Nigeria and its Convocation of Anglicans in North America (“CANA”).
This decision turned on whether the specific dispute involving those parishes authorized those former Episcopalians to invoke the remedies of a unique Virginia statute, Virginia Code § 57-9(A), enacted in 1867 in response to Reconstruction after the Civil War. That statute provides that when there is a division in a church the majority vote of the members may determine to which branch of the divided church the congregation will belong. The Court did not address the Constitutionality of the statute itself. There is no comparable statute applicable to Texas churches.
The court held that the statute did not apply to the pending dispute because CANA was not part of The Episcopal Church or its Diocese of Virginia. Thus the case was reversed and remanded to the trial court with directions to dismiss the CANA groups’ petitions under the statute and to reinstate the Episcopal parties’ petitions for declaratory judgment and the CANA counterclaims. The case will now proceed on the merits, as have many other cases across the country, where the First Amendment analysis will determine “trust, proprietary and contract rights” of The Episcopal Church and its Diocese in parish property when parish leaders chose to “disaffiliate” from The Episcopal Church. Click here to view a copy of the opinion.