SC Judge Rejects Episcopal Church's Attempt to Take Over Breakaway Church's Properties Worth $500 Million

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. |

A South Carolina judge has denied a motion to reconsider a ruling made in a $500 million property dispute case in favor of a diocese that voted to leave the Episcopal Church due to the national denomination's increasing acceptance of homosexuality.

Judge Diane Goodstein decided earlier this week to reject arguments made by The Episcopal Church requesting that she reconsider her order granting the Diocese of South Carolina ownership over the name and $500 million worth of diocesan church properties.

"The court has studied defendant's lengthy motion extensively and oral argument would not be of assistance to the court," ruled Goodstein on Monday.

The legal victory was the latest for the South Carolina Diocese, which broke away from the national mainline denomination back in November 2012 due to theological differences and purported mistreatment of its leader, Bishop Mark Lawrence.

The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, spokesman for the Diocese, told The Christian Post that they were "gratified" by Goodstein's conclusion to reject the motion.

"Where closely and factually considered, the TEC argument of hierarchy simply is not defensible," said Lewis. "We are grateful to God that our right to freedom of association continues to be upheld."

Earlier this month Goodstein issued a 46-page order concluding that the church properties belong to the diocese rather than The Episcopal Church.

Goodstein ruled that the diocese owns all property, real and personal, according to the paperwork connected to the diocesan property.

"It is equally undisputed that there is nothing in the deeds of their real property referencing any trust in favor of TEC," reads the decision.

Goodstein ordered that both the property and the trademarked name of the diocese belonged to the Diocese of South Carolina and not The Episcopal Church or The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, a group within the diocese loyal to the mainline denomination.

In response to the order, TECSC filed an 186-page motion for reconsideration which argued that the original decision erred on multiple points.

"The court erred by failing to recognize that the parties are all part of a religious organization and that their status as incorporated or unincorporated entities does not eradicate the application of First Amendment legal protections," read part of the motion. 

"The court erred by applying corporate definitions of membership to the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the diocese, and by failing to recognize clear evidence establishing that the diocese is in union with and part of The Episcopal Church, which is a hierarchical religious organization."

Regarding the latest legal victory, Lewis told CP that he expects the legal action to continue, as The Episcopal Church will likely appeal the Goodstein decision.

"While it is unfortunate that ministry resources on both sides will continue to be wasted in this fashion, it is entirely in keeping with TEC legal strategy," said Lewis, who drew parallels to a similar property case that took place in Illinois between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Quincy.

"The court sanctions imposed against TEC in Illinois last week are the perfect illustration of the lengths to which their leadership is prepared to go in pursuit of its scorched earth policy. We have no reason to expect different behavior here in South Carolina."

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