Judge Gives Victory for Church Split

A Fairfax County judge has given a preliminary victory to nearly a dozen conservative Virginia church congregations seeking to split from the Episcopal Church.

The 11 congregations voted in 2006 and 2007 to leave the Episcopal Church and realign under a network led by conservative Anglican bishops in Africa. That prompted the Episcopal Church to sue the congregations in an effort to regain control of church property.

In an opinion released late Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows ruled that Virginia's Civil War-era "division statute" applies to the lawsuit. The language in that law is favorable to the departing congregations.

The judge still has to decide whether the state law is constitutional and whether the departing congregations properly conducted their votes to realign.

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