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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

VA GOPer Attacks Church Property Rights

It was buried pretty deep in today’s Washington Post, but there was a story about a Republican legislative initiative in Virginia that tells you a lot about how deep the cultural war mentality runs in today’s GOP.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. William C. Mims from exurban Loudon County, would give religious congregations seceding from their denominations control over church buildings, even if that violates longstanding denominational arrangements governing church property.
There’s zero question what this initiative is about: the conservative effort to pull Episcopal parishes into breakaway denominations in response to the ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church has consistently told potential break-away congregations they must be willing to leave behind their buildings if they refuse to maintain communion with their brethren. (As the name of the denomination might suggest, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States is not an alliance of independent congregations, but an organic union claiming its authority from the apostolic succession of bishops). A wide array of state and federal courts, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court, have upheld this position as a matter of simple property law. Mims’ bill would give Virginia the rare distinction of becoming the first state to force a reorganization of a major religious denomination.
So: for at least one Republican, the imperative of encouraging the demonization of gay people overrides both the independence of churches and private property rights.
As I recall, Virginia eliminated mandatory membership in or financial support for the Anglican Church (the precursor of today’s Episcopalians) with the enactment of Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Liberty in 1786. Those whose homophobic tendencies override their belief in the other tenets of the Episcopal Church have a rich variety of other devotional options available. (After all, what’s two millenia of theology and liturgy as compared to the latest right-wing witch hunt?). They are entitled to take their views elsewhere. But they are not entitled to a nice little sectarian endowment in the form of property seized from the church they are repudiating, as a special gift from the Virginia Republican Party.

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