Osnes v. Morris

In Osnes v. Morris, 171 W. Va. 266, 298 S.E.2d 803 (1982), the Court examined the historical precedents governing the taking of title to real estate by a religious body. The Court noted that West Virginia's constitutional provision was the legitimate progeny of the English statutes of mortmain which played a central role in the law of property in England. The Court further noted that the prime object of the mortmain acts was to repress the alarming influence of ecclesiastical organizations and that the Magna Charta itself placed limits on the conveyance of lands to religious organizations. In Osnes v. Morris, the Court proceeded to state: The precedent that any conveyance to an ecclesiastical corporation in contravention of the statutes of mortmain is absolutely void, and not voidable, is overwhelming. In fact, in all of the statutes of mortmain except 7 Edward I stat. 2 up until the American Revolution, the word "void" is used expressly. For example the statute of 9 Hen. III, c. 36 provides: If any from henceforth give his Lands to any Religious house, and thereupon be convict, the Gift shall be utterly void, and the Land shall accrue to the Lord of the Fee. While the act of 7 Edw. I stat. 2 on the subject of mortmain does not use the word "void" explicitly, it uses the word "forfeit" which, in the context of the statute, has the same meaning. (Osnes v. Morris, id. at 269, 298 S.E.2d at 805.)