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(RNS) The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to review a lower court decision that awarded property rights to nine conservative congregations that broke from the Episcopal Church in 2006.
A circuit court judge in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County sided with the secessionist parishes last year, ruling that a Civil War-era state law allows churches to retain property when leaving a denomination in which a “division” has occurred.
The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia maintain that the law infringes on their First Amendment rights to practice religion without government interference. They also argue that church laws stipulate that parish property is held in trust for the diocese and the denomination.
The breakaway congregations include several large, historic churches whose property is estimated to be worth millions of dollars.
By Daniel Burke
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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