Va. Court to Hear Argument
  • Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Supreme Court of Virginia will hear an oral argument Oct. 16 from The Falls Church (Anglican), which has asked it to overturn a ruling by Fairfax County Circuit Judge Randy Bellows.

Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese of Virginia, announced the hearing late Tuesday on the diocese’s website:

Today, the Supreme Court of Virginia informed us that it will hear the Falls Church Anglican’s petition for appeal on Tuesday, October 16 at 1 p.m. This hearing consists of a 10-minute oral argument by the attorneys for the Falls Church Anglican, who will seek to persuade the Court to hear their appeal on the merits. The Supreme Court will decide whether it will hear the case in a few weeks after the hearing. If the appeal is accepted for argument, it is likely to be heard in the first half of next year.

While the litigation process unfortunately does continue with regards to the Falls Church, it is far outshone by the tremendous excitement and energy in Dayspring, the diocesan-wide initiative for ministry in the properties that have returned to the mission of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia. Each Dayspring congregation’s faithfulness to God’s call is breathtaking. Please look to the Fall 2012 issue of the Virginia Episcopalian magazine to read more about their stories.

The Falls Church described its appeal June 1:

Today, The Falls Church Anglican filed a Petition for Appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court, asking that Court to review and overturn the decision of Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows in the lawsuits filed by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Judge Bellows ordered The Falls Church Anglican to transfer to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia all of the church’s real property, approximately $2,800,000 in funds contributed by its members prior to 2007, and most of its personal property (bibles, hymnals, furniture, etc.). The Attorney General of Virginia today filed a brief in support of the church’s request for review of the trial court’s treatment of funds contributed by donors.

The church’s Petition [PDF] requests review on a number of legal and constitutional grounds. At the broadest level, the Petition shows that the trial judge failed to follow the Virginia Supreme Court’s 2010 directive to resolve this church property dispute by “application of neutral principles of law” — principles “developed for use in all property disputes” — and instead justified transferring the church’s property based primarily on the denomination’s internal canons. The trial court’s ruling [PDF] thus violates the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions by giving a denomination unilateral powers to override civil laws, powers not granted to any other entity, whether religious or secular, in Virginia.

Judge Bellows originally ruled in favor of The Falls Church and other congregations that had left the Diocese of Virginia, but he reached different conclusions after the Virginia Supreme Court overruled him and sent the matter back for further review.

Photo by Morgan Riley (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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