Local Commentary

Editorial: Big Victory for Civil Rights

It’s the second major blow for civil rights in Falls Church that we’ve happily welcomed in the last couple of months. The first was the referendum result in November, when citizens of Falls Church voted overwhelmingly in favor of moving local elections from May to November.

The second was Tuesday’s ruling by the Fairfax Circuit Court in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and against the defectors from the diocese who’ve been occupying the historical Falls Church property since 2006.

The News-Press has stood staunchly amid storms of controversy in favor of both developments. Both took years to resolve, but both achieved what we strongly feel are the just and right outcomes.

November elections will ensure that almost twice as many Falls Church citizens as before will participate in the local electoral process.

Tuesday’s court decision will end the angry, inhospitable process by which the defectors from the Episcopal diocese have clung to the historic Falls Church property, refusing to share it with those “continuing Episcopalians” who did not go along with the defection, and yet who remained faithful and united by worshiping as guests of the Falls Church Presbyterian Church across the street.

It will still take awhile and it is not certain how smoothly the transition of the two congregations can be pulled off. Will there will be a reconciliation, or will the defectors simply move away from the site and the “continuing” congregation move in?

There has been an on-going lack of communication between the groups to date, even though when the state Supreme Court struck down an initial court decision in favor of the defectors in 2010. It sent the matter back to the Fairfax Court lacking the ability to apply a Civil War statute to the case, and with that it became fairly clear that the church property would wind up reverting to the diocese.

The leader of the breakaway congregation, the Rev. John Yates, was officially defrocked by the Episcopal diocese shortly after he aligned with the defectors and helped organize them into a new non-Episcopalian entity, the Council of Anglicans in North America. So, it is unlikely he will retain his role in whatever form the transition takes. His choices are to leave and take as many breakaway congregants as he can to another location, or to step aside and permit a reconciliation of the two groups.

Like the November referendum, the real issue in the Falls Church Episcopal case involves core civil rights.

The defectors disassociated from the Episcopal Church in December 2005 in protest of the decision by the national Episcopal denomination to elevate an openly-gay priest to standing as a bishop: the historic case of the Rev. Gene Robinson.

Therefore, this week’s court ruling is a major blow for the civil rights of all Americans, affirming the right of a qualified priest to serve his church without regard to his sexual orientation or fear of reprisal.