Diocese of South Carolina Files Reply Brief with the South Carolina Supreme Court

The Diocese of South Carolina disassociated with The Episcopal Church in complete accord with South Carolina law and Constitutional precedent.

CHARLESTON, SC, JUNE 16, 2015 – One day after the Episcopal Church publically announced an illegitimate settlement offer to parishes of the Diocese of South Carolina, the Diocese filed its brief responding to the denomination’s appeal documents.


The Diocese of South Carolina filed its brief with the South Carolina Supreme Court.  The Diocese’s brief supports the Feb. 3decision by Judge Diane Goodstein, who ruled that the Diocese, its trustees and parishes are “the sole owners of their real, personal and intellectual properties” and that TEC has “no legal, equitable or beneficial interest” in any properties of the Diocese.


TEC had appealed the ruling and the state Supreme Court agreed to consider the appeal. The Diocese’s brief supports Judge Goodstein’s ruling on the basis of state and federal precedent, as well as established church history.


After first filing its own appeal brief with the State Supreme Court , TEC sent parishes in the Diocese letters offering to stop its legal action if – in exchange – the Diocese would give up the symbols, trademarks, assets and property protected by Judge Goodstein’s decision. Recognizing this as a way to try and create dissention among Diocesan churches, distract attorneys and as a publicity ploy, the illegitimate offer was turned down.


National Church  Founded as ‘Voluntary’ Association


After the Revolutionary War, the former American colonies were averse to anything that even appeared to be “top down” control, such as the hierarchy of the Church of England.  That aversion was expressed first in parish governance, but later in the initial rejection of bishops and the avoidance of all language of hierarchy.  The Episcopal Church was founded as a “voluntary association” of dioceses.  It has always been inherently possible for a diocese and its parishes to leave TEC.  It happened during the Civil War, and those dioceses that separated from TEC when the South declared its independence were welcomed back when they chose to return after the conflict.  That essential nature of voluntary association has never changed.


The Legal Nature of the Issues


TEC’s essential legal arguments can be distilled down to one proposition:  TEC claims to be a “hierarchical” church, with complete, top-down control of the entire organization.  


“There are multiple and significant problems with these assertions in this case as detailed in this brief,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary. “First, TEC’s organizational structure is irrelevant to this case.   The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled clearly and repeatedly that in property matters of this sort courts not only can, but should decide them based upon ‘neutral principles of law’ if that can resolve all the issues.  That means questions of ownership can be settled on the same basis as in any secular case.”

An example of this point is the 2009 decision of the All Saints case by the South Carolina Supreme Court.  As in any litigation involving churches, doctrinal issues are often involved.  However, if the court can decide the matter applying the customary laws of property ownership, it may do so.  That occurred in All Saints.


“A second problem with TEC’s position is that South Carolina law prevents a party from re-litigating issues in which a court of final authority has already rendered a decision,” Lewis said.  “The Illinois court has already affirmed at its highest level that TEC is not hierarchical in the way asserted in this case.  Thus TEC is precluded from re-litigating the issue of whether a hierarchy exists above the level of a diocese.”


TEC litigated whether it was a hierarchy in a case between TEC and a Diocese in Illinois and lost on that issue.


Under neutral principles of law, several further crucial legal principles apply.  The reason that TEC has no interest in the real, personal of intellectual property of the parish churches is that an express trust requires a written declaration, signed by the party conveying that interest.  No such instrument was ever executed by the Diocese or any of its parishes to convey anything to TEC.


The only real issue, using the principles of law in South Carolina that affect all organizations not just religious ones, is who has the rights to control the Diocese, TEC or those who have continuously been its leadership, in unbroken succession, all the way back to 1785.


The whole case is well summarized in the conclusion of the brief, said Lewis.


“Six years ago two parties in this case were also parties in All Saints.  They were on the same side then.  This court disagreed with their legal arguments,” Lewis said.  “One of them accepted this court’s ruling; one of them has not.  That is why the same issues are before this court again.”


About the Diocese of South Carolina


The Diocese was founded in 1785 by the parishes of the former South Carolina colony.  Based in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the Diocese is one of the oldest religious districts in the United States and counts among its members several of the oldest, operating churches in the nation.


The Diocese of South Carolina is recognized by Anglican Dioceses and Provinces around the world, many of whom have broken fellowship with The Episcopal Church, and in 2013 the Diocese joined the global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and entered into a formal relationship of Provisional Primatial Oversight with Global South Primates.

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