Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

ECUSA to Judge Goodstein: “We, not You, Get to Say What Is Ours”

As predicted in this space, the Episcopal Church (USA) and its rump group have, precisely on the last possible day to do so, filed a motion asking Judge Goodstein to "reconsider" (actually, replace wholesale) her decision and order of ten days ago. The motion and its statement of reasons are 182 pages long.

From the outset, ECUSA's attorneys attempt to define the playing field according to their understanding of how the church litigation game is played. They state their very first objection to the ruling as follows (with my bold added for emphasis):

On page 2, the Order fails to consider the true nature of this dispute and the real parties in interest. In the Complaint, the parties appearing as the Plaintiff Diocese and Plaintiff Trustees specifically sought declaratory judgments that they are the corporate identities they allege to be.

Well, no — as a matter of record, the Plaintiff Diocese and Trustees did not seek any such "declaratory judgment [as to their] corporate identities." You can download the original complaint from this link, and see for yourself just what kind of declaratory relief those Plaintiffs sought. Here is the complaint's opening paragraph, with again my bold added for emphasis:

Plaintiffs, through their respective undersigned counsel, bring this action against the Defendant [Episcopal Church (USA)] seeking a declaratory judgment pursuant to §§ 15-53-10 et seq. of the South Carolina Code of Laws (1976) that they are the sole owners of their respective real and personal property in which the Defendant has no legal, beneficial or equitable interest. The Plaintiffs also seek a declaratory judgment that the Defendant and those under its control have improperly used and may not continue to use any of the names, styles, seals and emblems of any of the Plaintiffs or any imitations or substantially similar names, styles, seals and emblems and that the Court enter injunctions prohibiting the Defendant and those under its control from such uses pursuant to §§ 39-15-1105 et seq. and §§ 16-17-310 and 320 of the South Carolina Code of Laws (1976).

It is only in the fertile imaginations of ECUSA's legal counsel that the Diocese of South Carolina and its Trustees sought to have the court declare just "who" they are — because had they done so, the door would have opened for ECUSA to play its identity games. ("You are not 'the Diocese of South Carolina'; the entity that we say is the 'Diocese' is the true 'Diocese of South Carolina', and no court anywhere can ever question what we say.")

That is not a very effective way to get Judge Goodstein's sympathy or attention. And indeed, the entire document proceeds in that same vein. Take this rewriting of Church history at the start of page 5 of the motion (my bold, again):

On page 3, the Order incorrectly states that the Diocese is older than TEC. The evidence introduced at trial shows that an early convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, held in 1784, predated and in fact recommended the earliest organizational meeting of former Anglican parishes in this State in 1785.

This howler stands history on its head. According to ECUSA's motion, the meeting of the South Carolina parishes in 1785 was just "organizational" in nature, even though the parishes adopted their very first governing document at that meeting. But was the meeting held in New York in October 1784 really a full-blown "convention" of an already-formed "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America"?

Hardly. Read the remarks of Bishop William White, generally recognized as the leading founder of PECUSA, as I reported them in this earlier post (with my bold, again):

. . . And there appeared [at that more general meeting in October 1784] Deputies, not only from the said three States, but also from others, with the view of consulting on the exigency of the Church. The greater number of these Deputies were not vested with powers for the binding of their constituents; and therefore, although they called themselves a Convention . . . yet they were not an organized body. They did not consider themselves as such; and their only act was, the issuing of a recommendation to the churches in the several States, to unite under a few articles to be considered as fundamental.

Moreover, at pages 6-7 the motion again reverses temporal order: "The Diocese [of South Carolina] came into existence as the Diocese when TEC's Constitution was adopted in 1789." This claim is  metaphysical, not legal — if the Diocese did not have any legal existence before its authorized representatives signed ECUSA's Constitution in 1789, then how could their signatures on the Constitution have been authorized? And why did they sign as "Lay Deputies from the State of South Carolina" if the Diocese (i.e., "State") did not yet exist? (The "State of South Carolina" [in the political sense] was not the entity forming PECUSA. The word "State" was also used in an ecclesiastical sense, as the predecessor to the later word "Diocese" — which began to be used after the State of New York split into two "Dioceses" in 1839.)

The motion goes right on inventing new facts and claiming them to be true. In this passage, it not only tries to minimize the role of the national headquarters in providing the wherewithal to finance Bishop vonRosenberg's multiple lawsuits, but it claims that the Diocese that withdrew is only "slightly" larger than the dissidents who chose to stay in the Episcopal Church (p. 17; my bold):

This dispute cannot fairly be characterized as being between unified South Carolinians and a far off organization headquartered in New York. It is very much a dispute between and among South Carolinians. Plaintiffs only enjoy a slight majority in their total number of supporters …

Forty-nine parishes, comprising nearly 80% of the nearly 30,000 people who made up the laity of the Episcopal Diocese in 2012, affirmed its decision to withdraw from ECUSA, and have remained with Bishop Lawrence. But for ECUSA and the 20% who chose to stay with that body, 24,000 is only a "slight majority" more than 6,000 (hint: try 400% greater).

Again and again, the motion for reconsideration is full of similar distortions and misstatements, whose cumulative effect makes for very desultory reading. I cannot commend it to anyone who values honesty, plain statement, and truth over obfuscation and prevarication. So exercise caution in how much of a dose you take at any one sitting.

The purpose of the motion is not so much to persuade Judge Goodstein to reverse her decision, as it is to make a record of points the attorneys plan to raise on appeal. By itemizing every asserted mistake or shortcoming in painstaking detail, it gives Judge Goodstein a last chance to clear up any ambiguities, or to shore up any of the findings, in her decision that she may discover as a result of going through the motion.

Nevertheless, the position of ECUSA with regard to the courts of South Carolina, as it emerges from this document, is stark. Take this passage from page 20, for example:

The Order’s Finding of Fact No. 68 also fails to address that the Plaintiff parishes were all a part of TEC and now claim to have withdrawn from TEC. Whether parishes are “members” of TEC in a typical common law association or corporate sense is a misguided legal question that infringes upon the TEC’s First Amendment rights and disregards the true organizational nature of TEC: TEC’s dioceses and parishes are part of TEC, as a hierarchical religious organization. The First Amendment requires that TEC is the only body that can declare who are its dioceses and parishes.

So, South Carolina courts — you are indulging a "misguided legal question" and "infring[ing] upon TEC's First Amendment rights" when you try to analyze "membership" in that august body in terms of "a typical common law association." Only TEC gets to say what it is, in both an ecclesiastical and a legal sense, because otherwise it is somehow prevented from being a Church. ECUSA, in other words, is claiming to be above the law.

Message to ECUSA and its attorneys: Judge Goodstein's decision has not prevented you from declaring "who are your dioceses and parishes." She has accepted that you recognize ECSC as one of your "dioceses", and that its parishes are the ones who today remain with it.

But if it takes you 182 pages to explain to a court why you are entitled not only to have ECSC and its parishes in your organization, but also the Diocese that voted to leave along with its parishes, don't you think that there might have been a clearer way to structure your organization under the law? Your General Convention, for example, rejected overwhelmingly a proposalto add a "Supremacy Clause" to your Constitution: does not that fact say a great deal about how your dioceses viewed who was actually in charge?

And the courts in Illinois could not find any "highest judicatory" in your structure — because you never created one. You claim that "General Convention" (which is a legislature, not a court of ecclesiastical law) somehow "delegated its authority to other bodies, including the Disciplinary Board for Bishops and the House of Bishops" (motion, at p. 21). But "delegation" is not the word to describe what happened: the Church's Constitution (Art. IX) provides that only bishops may sit in judgment of other bishops, much like the U.S. Constitution provides in Article III that the judicial power "of the United States" [n.b.: not Congress] shall be vested in a Supreme Court …".

ECUSA's case, in other words, is made up out of whole cloth. Indeed, I daresay that the reason Judge Goodstein could not find in its favor was precisely because ECUSA's arguments were so lacking in candor, and so divorced from history, reality, and what its governing documents actually say. I thus have no difficulty in predicting that she will deny the motion.

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