BREAKING: Falls Church Loses in VA Supreme Court (UPDATED)
Via Jeff Walton of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, this just in from the Virginia Supreme Court:
120919 The Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church 04/18/2013 In a protracted and complex dispute between the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (together, the plaintiffs) and seven local congregations which disaffiliated from the plaintiffs, raising issues about whether the trial court properly applied neutral principles of law in deciding the ownership of church property, whether that application was constitutional, and whether the trial court granted the proper relief, the plaintiffs have shown that they have a proprietary interest in the property at issue, and that the fiduciary relationship required to impose a constructive trust exists under the facts presented. Thus, equity dictates that a constructive denominational trust be imposed on such property for the benefit of the plaintiffs. The judgment of the trial court with regard to the disposition of personal property acquired by the congregations after the vote to disaffiliate is reversed and that matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The judgment of the trial court regarding Code § 57-7.1 is reversed. The remainder of the trial court’s judgment is affirmed.
You can find the full decision here. Stand Firm’s resident canon lawyer, Allan Haley, will be looking this over and posting a full response to it.
UPDATE: Allan’s preliminary response:
The ruling goes all over the place. It says VA follows neutral principles, but then it says the Dennis Canon can be recognized by VA courts, despite the fact that the “trust” it created was invalid under VA law in 1979 when it was passed. It says that a hierarchical church _necessarily_ has more than just a contractual relationship with its parishes, but that relationship can’t be examined under neutral principles. But it does return to TFC about $1-2 million in donations made to it after it voted to disaffiliate.
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