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Beginning today, South Carolina Supreme Court to hear appeal in diocese split

Beginning today, South Carolina Supreme Court to hear appeal in diocese split

The Charlotte Observer reports that arguments over the conservative Diocese of South Carolina’s 2012 split from the Episcopal Church will continue in the state Supreme Court this week following an appeal from The Episcopal Church and 40 parishes in South Carolina that remained with TEC, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. After the diocese sued “to protect its identity, the symbols it uses such as the diocesan seal and $500 million in church property,”

Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein, who presided at a three-week trial in Dorchester County in 2014, ruled earlier this year in favor of the diocese that left in a decision that said the diocese owns its name, symbols and property.

The judge ruled that while freedom of association is a fundamental right, “with the freedom to associate goes its corollary, the freedom to disassociate.”

The national Episcopal Church and the almost 40 congregations now comprising The Episcopal Church in South Carolina are appealing Goodstein’s decision to the Supreme Court. The justices have scheduled arguments in Columbia for Wednesday. Excerpted from the appeal:

“People are entitled to choose their own religious beliefs and affiliate with whomever they choose,” attorneys for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina said in documents filed in their appeal.

“These dissidents are dissatisfied with the Episcopal Church’s doctrine and its authority and nobody resents them for that dissatisfaction,” the filing said. “But they cannot band together, co-opt parts of the Episcopal Church itself and seek to turn those parts of the church into something different.”

Coverage in the Island Packet included responses from local priests:

“I’m confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the excellent ruling from the lower court,” The Rev. James Gibson, rector of [breakaway] Holy Trinity Church in Ridgeland said earlier this week.

All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island has remained with TEC:

The Rev. Richard Lindsey, rector of All Saints, said he believes the high court will overturn the lower court ruling.

“But I wish it didn’t have to come to a court case. I wish we could work it out without involving the courts,” he said.

Arguments began at 10:30 ET today and are being live-streamed here.

Photo: St. Mark’s Episcopal in Beaufort, part of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, those parishes which have remained with The Episcopal Church.




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Paul Powers

“Paul, a Supreme Court Justice writing for the majority doesn’t need to cite authority. What that justice writes *is* authority.”

Even Supreme Court justices can’t just make up law as they go along, especially on matters of state law, over which a state’s highest court, not SCOTUS, is the final authority.

Eric Bonetti

Although there are times where I am sorely vexed at TEC’s lack of organizational ethics, the property litigation is not one of those times. This is a situation in which the only way to deal with a bully is to fight back.

Plus, there is the delicious absurdity of the dissidents’ argument, which can be summarized as, “We can’t stand The Episcopal Church. But we are the Episcopal Church. We just don’t want to be associated with the Episcopal Church.” Sort of like working for AT&T, and having the accounting department announce, “We’re the real AT&T, and we are leaving and taking our equipment with us.”

And, of course, even if the dissidents win, they need to realize that theirs will be a short-lived victory. All demographic trends suggest we are rapidly moving towards inclusion. So, if they do win, they will soon find themselves with dwindling membership and purloined physical plants that they cannot afford to maintain. Bigotry and bad behavior is never a recipe for a healthy church.

Chris Harwood

Eric, in this diocese all churches are shrinking, not just the conservative churches in the rural countryside. There are only half as many priests as congregations. I can easily see liberal TEC and ELCA merging in this state/diocese-MT. Most of TEC’s growth in the last few years was in its foreign dioceses. I don’t really think the liberal part is going to outlive the conservative side–they’re both dying as most people have decided that science and government aid to the poor, etc. destroys any need for religion.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Chris, I’m in a growing parish and a growing diocese, in Colorado. The latest church survey indicates that where there is growth, it is in very liberal and moderately liberal parishes. This aligns with the data that growing churches tend to have young families and be urban or suburban. Young people and urban people tend to be liberal and suburbia is no longer the conservative mecca that it used to be. For sure, all Christian denominations are shrinking, but we are shrinking less fast than our mainline Protestant peers.

Ultimately, it is more important to follow conscience than to pursue growth for its own sake. But what kind of conscience is it that is fundamentally built upon its god-given right to oppress others? Did Jesus ever instruct anyone to oppress others? He was angered by those who used to the Law to hurt and exclude. It is in our brokenness that we delude ourselves into our various superiority complexes.

Paul Woodrum

Don’t steal is one of the big 10, but apparently even the devil can quote scripture to get around it when it comes to church property.

Leslie Marshall

…150 years ago, 50 years ago, 40 years ago, parishioners gave their blood, sweat , tears, and money to The Episcopal Church for buildings & acreage. They gave because they held deep religious beliefs and love for the Word of God. It’s bad form to negate those faithful souls of Episcopal Church history. Could the same funds be raised today– is the zeal the same?

Cynthia Katsarelis

“150 years ago, 50 years ago, 40 years ago, parishioners gave their blood, sweat , tears, and money…”

And many of them were supporting slavery and using Scripture to do so. Leviticus 25:44, 46, etc. So we should go back to slavery to honor the sacrifice of those people?

The “oppression” has been whites toward blacks, men towards women, and straights toward LGBTQ people. All of it goes against the Gospel of Jesus. We are indeed a broken people, but God gave us gifts for revelation and discernment.

I’ll be glad when the lawsuits are over. I’ll be gladder still when the schismatics realize that homophobia and misogyny are a poor basis for a Church.

JC Fisher

Please. Spare me the schismatic claim “WE alone speak for generations past/the Church Triumphant!”

It’s one thing to disagree w/ the TEC majority (as determined at GC) view. It’s quite another to deny that we in the majority discern that view based upon the Anglican formula of Scripture, Tradition, and prayerful Reason, the same as claimed by the departing minority. We follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as led by the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to believe that, but do NOT deny that we believe it!

Leslie Marshall

I think the ‘dissidents’ have maintained faith in The Word, which then places the Episcopal Church as the renegades…[as they deserted their core beliefs for a religion that opposes it.] If you desert the Church (spiritually), then you may not have claim to the Church (materially) .

Philip Snyder

Unfortunately, Leslie, that won’t hold up in a court of law. While I believe that TEC has moved into error and abandoned (or many of its leaders have abandoned) the Faith it has received, I do not believe that gives me (or anyone else) to simply claim TEC’s property.

Likewise, it does not give TEC the right to claim anyone else’s property either.

The question on property ownership should revolve around whose name is on the deeds and any trust documents that may exist, not on internal rules in the organizations documents. In the Roman Catholic Church, for example, the Diocese owns all congregational property. In TEC some dioceses hold title (or actual deed of trust) to the property and in others the congregations hold that title themselves.

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