The trial court has issued its long-awaited ruling on the constitutionality of the Virginia division statute and responded in a separate opinion to five questions as to the scope and impact of its earlier rulings. Both opinions are available from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia here.
These rulings no doubt will be appealed. They are not much of a surprise given the tenor of the judge's prior written decisions in this case. But it is sad that the judge did not demonstrate full understanding of the issues at stake here, not just for the Episcopal Church and these parishes in Virgina but for all churches. No matter which side one is on, these rulings do not bode well for the principle of separation of church and state which, for many, is critical to First Amendment rights of free speech, association, and exercise of religion. The government simply has no business deciding how a church is to resolve disputes over property and the authority to create or dissolve parishes and dioceses. It remains to be seen whether appellate courts will step back and think seriously about these issues in a neutral fashion or will be swayed by partisan considerations and/or a desire to defer wholly in these matters to the Virginia legislature. Sure do miss the kind of Republican judges who knew how to stand above the fray and to truly think and act judiciously.