Americans United for Separation of Church and State today hailed the shelving of a Virginia bill aimed at allowing congregations that split from their denominations to keep church property.
The proposed bill, SB 1305, was apparently drafted to help Episcopal congregations angered at the diocese's support for the 2003 consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, the world's first openly gay bishop. A few Episcopal congregations unhappy with Robinson's consecration are reportedly considering leaving the denomination.
Americans United, in a Feb. 1 letter to Virginia senators, said the bill would violate the U.S. Constitution by meddling in internal church affairs.
Articles in the Associated Press and The Washington Post reported that the senators voted Monday to send the measure back to a committee where it won't be considered this session.
"This bill is an affront to the First Amendment principle of church-state separation," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It is a measure that sought to take sides in an internal church dispute, and it deserved a quick burial. The First Amendment bars exactly that kind of government involvement in the internal affairs of houses of worship."
Lynn noted that the lawmakers pushing the bill seemed to be trying to sneak it through the session by characterizing it as merely a solution to minor church property questions.
"Thankfully, when the real effect of the bill was uncovered, it was quickly derailed," Lynn said.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.