Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

News highlights from around the world

Issue: "Who is Tom Daschle?," Oct. 12, 2002

Old Virginia, new Virginia

It took a centuries-old Virginia law that limits church property ownership to bring together Jerry Falwell and the ACLU. And last week, Rev. Falwell ended his lawsuit against the state when Virginia agreed that the law does not apply to Rev. Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.

The fight concerns laws dating back to Thomas Jefferson's time. To limit the power of churches, Virginia limited the size of congregational property. No church may own more than 15 acres in a city or town or 250 acres in a county.

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When Rev. Falwell decided that Thomas Road Baptist Church needed a larger new sanctuary, he found the 18th-century law stood in the way. He sued, and a federal judge dismissed his claim after the attorney general's office said it would not enforce the laws. Unsatisfied that the action left the core religious liberty issue unresolved, Rev. Falwell refiled the suit earlier this year.

Lawyers for both sides agreed that because the church was incorporated last April, it had become exempt from the property restrictions. (Last April, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon struck down a state law barring churches from becoming corporations.)

Still, the property restrictions remain on the books. The ACLU had filed a legal brief supporting Rev. Falwell, arguing that meddling in churches' property rights "relegates them to a disfavored status."

Gimme that online religion

Receptionist LaDonna DeVore and other employees of the Dallas-area Highland Park school district may now include religious references in their e-mail at work. A supervisor had censured Ms. DeVore last spring for sending other employees a personal note with a copy of President Bush's proclamation of May 2 as the National Day of Prayer.

The supervisor said the e-mail was "inappropriate" and violated a policy that allows staff to send personal and work-related e-mails on the district's mail system but not if they have a religious purpose. Ms. DeVore sued, claiming the policy was discriminatory and violated her First and 14th Amendment rights ("Religion in the e-square," Aug. 17).

Under a court-approved settlement last month, the school district agreed to drop the religious-content restrictions from its policy. The district also agreed to pay $5,000 in attorney fees to Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, which brought the lawsuit.

Irresolution

Two hours of stormy debate ended with a whimper, as 137 active and retired bishops of the Episcopal Church last week gutted a draft resolution that would have chastised some of them by name for disruptive and "inappropriate behavior." The action came at the fall meeting of the church's House of Bishops in Cleveland.

Bishop Robert Ihloff of Maryland introduced the resolution, which expressed "disappointment" with liberal Philadelphia bishop Charles Bennison for failing to resolve issues surrounding the "deposition" (defrocking) of prominent conservative priest David Moyer ("Battling bishops," Sept. 21). But it also knocked evangelical bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh for taking "unilateral ... extra-canonical action" in offering Rev. Moyer a position in his diocese.

The resolution also criticized the dioceses of Kansas and Delaware for authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions, an action that "went beyond the consensus" of the church's last general convention.

In the end, the bishops voted to remove the references to specific bishops and dioceses, and to tone down other sections. The final wording stated that collegiality "and our episcopal vows require that we confront instances of inappropriate behavior" while striving to maintain unity.

It said that church laws, "used properly," can help unify the church-a gentle slap at Bishop Bennison's defrocking of Rev. Moyer. But it also said, "we expect that depositions and other disciplinary actions be recognized by all bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion" -a slap at Bishop Duncan and Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, and reaffirmation of a bishop's ultimate authority. It skirted the issue of accountability. | Edward E. Plowman

Gambling on the future

Tennessee may avoid catching lottery fever, but don't bet on it. The temperature is running high, according to recent surveys, with a referendum for a state lottery, which is on the ballot in November, drawing 2-1 support.

Supporters point to a $480 million state budget shortfall and hint that a lottery is the only way to keep out a state income tax. But a group called the Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance argues that lotteries lead to political corruption, hurt children and the poor, and are bad for the economy. The Tennessee Baptist Convention is rolling out 3.2 million leaflets to persuade Volunteer State citizens to vote no.

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