- Report Published -
|Senate Document No. 9|
PUBLICATION YEAR 2005
|Report on the Incorporation of Churches in Virginia|
|SJR 89 (Regular Session, 2004)|
|The 2004 General Assembly passed SJR 89, patroned by Senator William C. Mims, authorizing the study of the issues attendant to the incorporation of churches in Virginia.|
Pursuant to the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in "Falwell v. State Corporation Commission", 203 F. Supp. 624 (W.D. Va. 2002), churches were deemed eligible to incorporate in Virginia. The holding of the court was that the provision in the Virginia Constitution (Article IV, sec. 14) prohibiting church incorporation was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The door was thus opened for church incorporation in Virginia. However, there was no statutory structure in place for churches to accomplish incorporation since Virginia law contemplated only trustee-owned churches and prohibited incorporation.
A study group was formed to examine the breadth of the decision in "Falwell v. SCC" (i.e., its applicability to the Eastern District), to consider the methodology of transition from trustee-owned churches to incorporated churches and to consider the necessity of an amendment to the Virginia Constitution to remove the unconstitutional provision.
The study group, chaired by Senator Mims, consisted of Senator Yvonne B. Miller and Delegates Kathy J. Byron, Michele B. McQuigg, R. Lee Ware and Jeion A. Ward. Also on the panel were citizen members Mark N. Reed, Mina L. Croson and Jeffrey A. Maynard. The Attorney General was represented ex officio by William E. Thro.
The subcommittee was assisted in its work by the Wills, Trusts & Estates Section of the Virginia Bar Association. The VBA had formed a study group to examine, during the interim between the 2004 and 2005 sessions, not only the issue of church incorporation but also archaic language, usage and religious references throughout the Code. Led by Professor Emeritus J. Rodney Johnson, the group provided much assistance to the SJR 89 subcommittee.
The SJR 89 subcommittee met on two occasions in 2004 and met informally on the day before the beginning of the 2005 General Assembly session. The subcommittee recommended and drafted a bill to amend the Virginia Constitution to remove the unconstitutional provision. The subcommittee also recommended and drafted legislation establishing a methodology for conversion from trustee-owned churches to incorporated churches. Finally, the subcommittee reviewed and approved the considerable work done by the VBA group, which work resulted in two pieces of legislation that modernize the religious usage and references in the Code of Virginia.