(Photo: Henry D.W. Burt)
A month after a Virginia judge ruled against seven congregations leaving The Episcopal Church, the Virginia attorney general filed a brief on behalf of the departing Anglicans citing religious freedom.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's brief, filed on Wednesday with the Fairfax County Circuit Court, argued that the departing congregations should be allowed to keep their personal property and donations they made to the churches they inhabited.
Faith McDonnell, a member of Church of the Apostles, which is one of the seven churches involved in the property controversy, told The Christian Post that she agreed with the attorney general.
"Cuccinelli is very right when he says that this is a religious freedom issue," said McDonnell.
"There is a violation of religious freedom in taking the funds and/or other property given to the churches by members and other friends that intended them to go to that particular body of believers."
Last month, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows ruled in favor of the Diocese of Virginia regarding who owned the property of seven Episcopal churches that had decided to break away from TEC over theological differences.
In his motion, Cuccinelli noted that since 2003 nearly all the donations given by members of the seven churches were specifically given to their respective church and not the Diocese of Virginia or The Episcopal Church.
Cuccinelli cited "donor intent" when arguing that Bellows' decision ignored the intentions of the donors, violating their religious conscience.
"[E]ven before the time of the official split from The Episcopal Church, church members have been indicating in the memo section of their checks that they are designated for use by the local congregation only," said McDonnell.
McDonnell said there were other donations that were of a non-monetary nature, such as a cross that was given to the Church of the Apostles, handmade pulpits, and a mural.
The properties The Episcopal Church gained control of included The Falls Church and Truro Church, which were both established during the 18th century, with George Washington serving as a vestryman.
When the seven congregations decided to break away, they remained with the overall Anglican Communion, joining conservative denominations like the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
Henry D.W. Burt, Secretary & Chief of Staff for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, told CP that Cuccinelli's brief was part of an ongoing involvement the attorney general had had with the case.
"The attorney general … notes that he does not take sides in the matter, noting only that the CANA congregations have raised a prima facie case that the court has not considered donor intent in its ruling," said Burt.
"We will respond in a filing next week. We remain confident that this case was correctly decided."
Jeff Walton, staff member for the Institute on Religion and Democracy's "Anglican Action" program, told CP that he believed there was a religious liberty aspect to this case.
"This is an acknowledgement that the departing Anglican congregations have a substantial argument that deserves consideration," said Walton.
"The court should not compel persons to give money to a religious institution. Clearly, the overwhelming number of donations to these parishes since 2003 were specifically restricted by donors not to go to either The Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Virginia."