Virginia laws that prohibit churches from incorporating violate the U.S. Constitution, a district court judge ruled in April. A lawsuit filed in November by prominent Lynchburg pastor Jerry Falwell prompted the ruling.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a friend of the court brief agreeing with Falwell.
A second lawsuit, filed by Falwell, challenges the current land ownership restriction of 15 acres within a city and 250 acres within a county. West Virginia has similar laws, which are uncontested. Falwell's second suit is pending.
Since the American Revolution, the commonwealth of Virginia has not allowed churches to incorporate or to own unlimited real estate.
On April 25, Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church became the first in the state to incorporate since the late 1700s. The church is in the process of purchasing 146 acres in Lynchburg (population 66,000) to build a 12,000-seat sanctuary.
Several Falwell-related ministries own more than 4,000 acres in Lynchburg and in neighboring counties. Thomas Road Baptist Church owns almost 29 acres in Lynchburg.
Judge Norman Moon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia said the incorporation law violates constitutional clauses providing equal protection under the law and the free exercise of religion.
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Past articles on Falwell's suits include:
Court overturns Virginia ban on church incorporation — Associated Press (March 31, 2002)
Falwell argues against Va. law limiting church property — Associated Press (March 31, 2002)
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