Sharply divided court upholds original decision
COLUMBIA, S.C. (November 18, 2017) – Today the Diocese of South Carolina (Diocese) was informed by mail that the South Carolina Supreme Court denied its motions filed for Rehearing and Recusal in its ruling in Appellate Case No. 2015-000622. Doing so finalized a sharply divided ruling that could deprive at least 28 parish churches of their right to properties some have held for over 300 years.
Statement by the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis:
“We are deeply disappointed the Court did not see fit to recuse Justice Hearn. Her personal interest in the outcome of this litigation, beyond the normal matters of law, has clearly influenced its outcome. That is unfortunate not only for the Diocese but for all the citizens of this State with concerns for a fair and impartial judiciary. We also find it disturbing that the weight of the Constitutional concerns raised was not given further opportunity to be addressed. Church property ownership in South Carolina is now gravely complicated.
Given the gravity of all these concerns, we will now give serious consideration to seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court. We believe the number and character of the issues at stake in this ruling merit review by the high court. Because of the long road of litigation that has brought us to this day, all the parties to this case will need to take counsel together before deciding our next steps.
We remain confident that God is at work in even these circumstances to redeem and use them, as He does all things, for His glory and the building up of His Church.”
The Diocese also provided the following list of additional details:
- As Justice Kittredge noted in his dissenting opinion, “For the purpose of resolving the rehearing petitions, I requested a fifth justice be appointed to fill the absence created by Justice Hearn’s recusal so that a full court could decide this matter of great importance. My request was rejected, which I find shocking. Under these circumstances, to disallow a full court from considering the rehearing petitions is deeply troubling and, in my opinion, raises constitutional implications as the Court has blocked a fair and meaningful merits review of the rehearing petitions.”
- Former Chief Justice Jean Toal, in her dissenting opinion, had this observation to make about the denial of Rehearing.“…the Court’s collective opinion in this case gives rise to great uncertainty, in that we have given little to no coherent guidance in this case or in church property disputes going forward. Given our lack of agreement, I have no doubt the court will see more litigation involving these issues and similarly situated parties.”
- In 2012, the Diocese of South Carolina, along with 50 of its congregations voted by an 80% margin to disassociate from The Episcopal Church. In a complicated and sharply divided ruling consisting of five separate opinions, the S.C. Supreme Court appeared to rule on August 2 this year that parishes which had “acceded” to the national church are subject to a trust interest in their property by (TEC).
A copy of today’s Rulings can be found here: