April 4, 2012
Episcopalians Can Achieve Freedom of Religion
By Mike McManus
FALLS CHURCH, VA -The First
Amendment to the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
However, The Episcopal Church
(TEC) is prohibiting my “free exercise” of religion at The Falls Church,
a congregation after whom Falls Church, Virginia is named. TEC asserts
that since the congregation voted to leave The Episcopal Church and
become an Anglican congregation, that TEC has a right to seize our
What’s sad is that it had
been upheld by a local court, on grounds that TEC is a hierarchical
church with that power. Shortly after Easter, our 3,000 members must
abandon the facility, valued at $10+ million, turn over vestments,
prayer books and even our bank account to less than 100 people who
remained loyal to TEC. We will have to worship in a high school.
This is wrong.
The Falls Church was
organized 278 years ago. George Washington himself served on the Vestry
that voted to build the historic congregation erected in 1769. The
Episcopal Church wasn’t even established until decades later. It
contributed nothing to build the historic church, nor the adjacent
modern, church-in-the round facility erected 15 years ago.
Our church and two other
congregations in Northern Virginia are appealing the case to the
Virginia Supreme Court. Sadly, it has already ruled against us once.
However, this is a much
bigger issue than three churches in Northern Virginia. It involves 150
to 180 congregations in multiple states in of formerly Episcopal
Churches who have bolted to help create the Anglican Church in North
America that has nearly 1,000 churches with 100,000 members.
This development has made
TEC’s Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori absolutely furious.
Her personal lawyer, David Booth Beers, has made millions filing most of
the 77 lawsuits to seize churches. She will not allow any diocese
ending up with property to sell it to an Anglican church. She said
she’d rather sell it to a saloon. In fact, one church in New York State
was sold to a mosque at a fraction of what the Anglicans were willing to
pay – for a church they owned before she swiped it.
Three dozen churches have
simply walked away from their own properties rather than pay huge legal
fees in what is often a vain fight. Another 150+ are fighting.
Two former Episcopal Churches
and one former Presbyterian Church, have recently appealed their cases
to the U.S. Supreme Court One involves Timberridge Presbyterian Church
in Atlanta. Two TEC cases are Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, CT. and
Christ Church in Savannah. Steffen Johnson, the attorney in both cases,
makes two persuasive arguments:
In 1979 the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled in Jones v. Wolf, that the First Amendment
required courts to apply “neutral principles of law…objective,
well-established concepts of trust and property law.” It rejected the
notion argued by TEC that courts must “defer to the resolution of an
authoritative tribunal of the hierarchical church,” or church
“At least five state
supreme courts and one federal circuit hold that a neutral-principles
approach requires courts to apply the State’s neutral trust and property
law, without deference to church law or canons. By contrast, four state
supreme courts hold that a neutral principles approach requires
enforcing language in denominational documents unilaterally asserting a
`trust’ and that any state law defenses `are no longer relevant.’
This turns Jones on its head,” Johnson wrote.
For example, the South Carolina Supreme
Court allowed a Pawley’s Island church to keep its property, as did
Alaska and Arkansas Supreme Courts while Georgia and Connecticut Supreme
Courts ruled for TEC and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
“The issue is of concern to a wide range
of denominations – Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal,
and others – further underscoring the need for this Court to resolve the
With three cases from three states asking
for review, perhaps the court will pay attention. Frankly, I doubt it.
Last week the court scheduled an unheard of three days to consider the
constitutionality of Obamacare. There are many other cases.
Therefore, I have a bold proposal to get
the court’s attention. Leaders of 80 churches in Fort Worth, 40 in
Pennsylvania, 8 in California, 3 in Virginia, etc. – should hold a joint
press conference at the National Press Club, and publicly ask the
Supreme Court to grant Certiorari, to hear the three churches asking for
What’s needed is a scream of pain from
average citizens in these churches who are losing their freedom of
religion due to rapacious national denominations who gobble up
individual churches like bowls of cereal.
“Justices, please hear these cases!”
On Palm Sunday I worshipped at the historic Falls Church
marveling at its beauty for perhaps the last time.
This is wrong.
2002 Michael J.