Magazine article Church & State

Church Property Bill Derailed in Va. Legislature after AU, Clergy Protests

Magazine article Church & State

Church Property Bill Derailed in Va. Legislature after AU, Clergy Protests

Article excerpt

Legislation that would have made it easier for dissenting congregations to keep their property after splitting from their denominations was derailed in Virginia after protests by Americans United and religious groups.

The bill, introduced by Sen. William C. Mims, a Loudoun County Republican, would have allowed a dissenting church to leave its denomination and keep church property, unless a deed or other binding document specifically prohibited it.

SB 1305 was widely seen as an under-the-radar attempt to give support to Episcopal churches that are unhappy with a decision by the national leadership of that denomination to consecrate an openly gay bishop.

Religious leaders from different faith groups were quick to protest after word of the bill got out. Many labeled it an unwelcome state intrusion into internal church matters.

"It seems as though the bill's patrons are trying to trump church law," Doug Smith, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, told the Associated Press.

Critics also said Mims may have been moved to act because his own congregation, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Ashburn, Va., has joined a network of conservative Episcopalians who oppose the gay bishop, Gene Robinson.

Americans United also spoke out against SB 1305.

"I can't remember a more blatant attempt by, a state government to meddle in the internal affairs of a church," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. …

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