Episcopal Church files motion for reconsideration in South Carolina case

The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, on 13 Feb 2015 filed a Motion for Reconsideration asking Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein to reverse a ruling that a breakaway group can keep the name and property of the “Diocese of South Carolina,” even though it has left the church.

The 180-page motion examines the judge’s February 3 ruling page by page, taking issue with “findings of fact” and conclusions in the 46-page order and citing dozens of instances in which the ruling doesn’t fully address evidence, makes incorrect statements, or fails to consider relevant points of law. Such a motion must be filed within 10 days of the order, and the judge must respond to it, before an appeal can be filed.

TECSC is the recognized diocese of The Episcopal Church, representing some 30 congregations of local Episcopalians who have remained part of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The breakaway group, an unaffiliated organization led by Mark Lawrence that continues to call itself the “Diocese of South Carolina,” filed the lawsuit against TEC and the local diocese in 2013. A three-week trial was held in July 2014.

According to the Motion for Reconsideration filed today, the February 3 order “fails to consider the true nature of this dispute and the real parties in interest.” It also fails to take into account that a substantial number of people in the diocese opposed the actions taken by the breakaway group, the motion says.

“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,” the motion says. The breakaway leaders “have disregarded and taken property away from their South Carolina neighbors.”

The motion also notes that the order does not address the major constitutional principle at stake: The freedom of a hierarchical church to govern its own affairs. The breakaway group has relied on the S.C. Supreme Court’s 2009 All Saints decision, arguing that the court must use the “neutral principles” approach and ignore church law, deciding the case solely under state corporation law.

“On multiple grounds… the Order’s interpretation of All Saints is unconstitutional,” the motion says. “In a discriminatory manner, it favors breakaway religious sects, whose leaders are essentially given a judicial license to take from long established religious organizations to endow their new organizations.”

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