Cuccinelli backs churches in legal battle

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Local,Virginia,Liz Essley

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli waded into an ongoing legal battle between seven Virginia congregations breaking away from their church.

The Anglican churches, which broke away from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2007 over concerns that included the ordination of homosexual bishops, are asking a Fairfax County judge to let them keep their personal property, including cash donations.

The court made international headlines last month when it ruled that the churches' historic buildings belonged to the diocese and that the congregations would have to move out.

Cuccinelli filed a brief with the Fairfax County Circuit Court Wednesday arguing that the churches should be allowed to keep the donations and other personal property since virtually all donors since 2003 had specifically indicated that their contributions should not go to the Episcopal Church or the diocese.

"This is a religious liberty issue at its core as the courts are not lawfully able to coerce contributions to a specific religious entity against the wishes of the donors," Jim Oakes, spokesman for the congregations, said in a statement.

The Rev. John Yates, pastor of the Falls Church in Falls Church, one of the breakaway congregations, said losing the money could bankrupt his church.

"[Fairfax County Circuit Court] Judge Randy Bellows is a very reasonable man, and I think he will listen carefully, and I believe he will realize that monies that people gave designated for special purposes should indeed be used for those purposes and not be given to the Episcopal church," he said.

Cuccinelli is not the first attorney general to get involved in the dispute between the Christian bodies -- then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell filed a brief in favor of the local congregations in 2008.

The churches include two local historic congregations that George Washington helped found -- Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax.

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner