Conservatives win court case in Va. church dispute

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Nearly a dozen conservative church congregations in Virginia have won a lawsuit in which they sought to split from the U.S. Episcopal Church in a dispute over theology and homosexuality.

The final rulings came Friday from a Fairfax County judge who said the departing congregations are allowed under Virginia law to keep their church buildings and other property as they leave the Episcopal Church and realign under the authority of conservative Anglican bishops from Africa.

Several previous rulings had also gone in favor of the departing congregations. The diocese said it will appeal.

Eleven Virginia congregations were involved in the lawsuit, including two prominent congregations that trace their histories to George Washington — Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church.

The congregations voted to realign in late 2006. Since then, the rift in the Episcopal Church has grown, and entire dioceses have voted to leave the denomination. Similar property disputes are expected there as well.

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia argued it was the true owner of the church property and that the congregations' votes to leave the Episcopal Church were invalid.

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