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What it Means: Understanding Judge Goodstein's Ruling
By the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis
This week, we received the ruling from Judge Diane Goodstein in our litigation with The Episcopal Church. A brief reminder of how we got here: When TEC attempted to wrongly remove Bishop Lawrence as our bishop, this Diocese elected to disassociate from TEC. At that time a small group, who we now know had been meeting and planning for some months, began an intentional campaign of using our Diocesan Seal and other service marks. They in essence began to function as if they were us. To maintain our identity required that we defend that identity.
The manner in which we did so was to ask the South Carolina courts to give us a declaratory judgment. In other words, we asked them to confirm the identity we have held continuously since 1785 as the Diocese of South Carolina, and that we had every right under South Carolina law to leave TEC as freely as we had chosen to help in its founding and to keep our property. The judge at that time (January 2013) imposed a temporary injunction to protect our identity rights.
With this week’s ruling, that has now become a permanent injunction.
A few words of explanation about the significance of the Court's ruling.
1. The Diocese and its congregations are confirmed as the owners of their property and identities. This would seem a common sense affirmation of what some parishes have experienced as reality for nearly 300 years, but that is what was being challenged.
2. TEC and its local diocese have NO interest in either our property or identity. The fabled “Dennis Canon” could not, by itself, enable them to unilaterally declare an ownership interest in our properties any more than I can do so for my neighbor’s house just by saying it is so. Without a written agreement between TEC and each parish, no such interest can be conveyed.
3. TEC and its local diocese are PERMANENTLY forbidden to use our registered names or in any way to presume to be or act as if they are The Diocese of South Carolina. We are not “the breakaway diocese”. We are not the “Lawrence diocese”. We are not “the schismatics”. We are who we have consistently been, and continue to be, The Diocese of South Carolina, and no one else has a right to make that claim. Period.
4. Their counterclaims, their arguments as to why our behavior was unlawful or ineffective, and why we should not be given this relief in the courts were dismissed with prejudice. This means τhey cannot bring another lawsuit in the future making the same claims. These claims have been finally determined by this judicial order. They can appeal the correctness of this ruling, but that is all. If that appeal is decided in our favor, they can never again bring such claims.
Practically speaking, this means many things, that can perhaps be boiled down to these two:
1. We can continue doing our ministry without some of the needless distractions this case has brought. No one need fear they are in imminent danger of losing their property or legal identity.
2. We are also now free to use our identity without caveat or qualifier. The courts have affirmed that as well.
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has already announced it will appeal this decision. This was expected.
The court has affirmed what everyone knew from the start was the legal precedence in South Carolina, that congregations and the Diocese have the right to chose their religious association. While we will have more work to do to confirm this, we have every reason to be confident the South Carolina courts will continue to do so through the appeals process. We will pursue that in as speedy fashion as possible and deal with the expected delays we know TEC will attempt. Justice may be delayed by those attempts, but we believe it will come.
Finally, it should be observed that it is God’s grace that has brought us to this day. Legal counsel has affirmed repeatedly that they have experienced God’s grace at work in this litigation from start to finish. To Him be the glory and praise and it is in His Name alone that we trust (Ps. 20:7). By that grace, I trust the Diocese of South Carolina will continue “Making biblical Anglicans for a Global Age” long into the future.