SC High Court Rejects Breakaway Diocese's Appeal to Decision Giving Properties to Episcopal Church

South Carolina Supreme Court
The building of the South Carolina Supreme Court, located in Columbia, South Carolina. |

The South Carolina Supreme Court has denied a motion by a breakaway diocese to reconsider a decision granting ownership of nearly all of their properties to The Episcopal Church.

In a divided decision released Friday, the state's highest court denied a motion from the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, with the motion failing to get the necessary majority vote from the judges.

"In light of the above, the petitions for rehearing have failed to recieve a majority vote. Therefore the petitions for rehearing have been denied, and the opinions previously filed in this case reflect the final decision of this Court," stated the denial notice.

The decision garnered praise from The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, which is the name for those Episcopalians within the diocese who stayed loyal to the national denomination.

Mark Lawrence
The Reverend Mark Lawrence, bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, on the steps of Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina, in April of 2014. |

In a statement released Sunday, TECSC Bishop Skip Adams expressed thanks for the decision, but also said that "the hope of reconciliation has been our guiding principle."

"We understand that the many people in the parishes affected by this ruling may be experiencing pain, fear and confusion," stated Bishop Adams.

"Let me say to all that The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is committed to finding a path that will allow the people of God to continue to live their lives as a part of the Anglican Communion in and through the Episcopal Church."

In November 2012, the South Carolina Diocese voted to leave the national denomination (The Episcopal Church) due to theological differences and the apparent mistreatment of diocesan bishop the Rev. Mark Lawrence.

In January 2013, a lawsuit was filed by the breakaway diocesan leadership over the rightful ownership of the name and property of the regional body. The estimated value of the property is $500 million.

In August, the state supreme court ruled that nearly all the church properties belonged to the national denomination, overturning a lower court decision from 2015.

Acting Justice Costa Pleicones authored the majority opinion, in which he argued that the lower court ruling had an "error of law" which produced "a distorted view of the issues in this case."

"I conclude that the present property and church governance disputes are not appropriate for resolution in the civil courts and would reverse the order to the extent it purports to resolve these questions," wrote Justice Pleicones.

"Finally, I find the trial court erred in holding that the Respondents' state-registered trademarks prevail over TEC's federally-protected trademarks, and therefore would also reverse that portion of the order."

Regarding the Friday denial of motion to rehear, the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis of the South Carolina Diocese said in a statement released Saturday that he was "deeply disappointed."

Lewis believed that there were many concerns with how the state court handled the case, which will lead them to consider appealing to 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," stated Lewis.

"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."

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