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Executive Overview

29 churches in South Carolina forced to turn over their property to an unincorporated New York association. Is your place of worship next?

The Diocese of South Carolina voted to disassociate from The Episcopal Church in 2012 after an attempt to remove Bishop Lawrence in the very midst of good faith negotiations.  This following 20+ years of conflict based on differences in their faith, polity and ethics. That was the start of what would become a large legal battle with national significance. Most recently, the South Carolina Supreme Court partly reversed a Circuit Court ruling (from February 2015), which had been in the Diocese’s favor, and divested the property rights of 29 congregations and more than 20,000 church members.

Now, parishioners, some of whom have been attending those churches for upwards of 12 generations, are facing the loss of their places of worship. Not only are thousands about to be religiously displaced, but parishioners are being told if they want to worship differently, they are no longer able to own their properties, calling to question several fundamental American values — property rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of association — and how the Supreme Court of South Carolina has acted to erode them.

Helpful Sources

The Timeline of Events

October 15, 2012
Episcopal Church Takes Action Against the Bishop and Diocese of SC

On Monday, October 15, 2012, Bishop Mark J. Lawrence, the 14th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina was notified by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church [TEC], Katharine Jefferts Schori, that on September 18, 2012 the Disciplinary Board for Bishops had certified his abandonment of The Episcopal Church. 

“It’s true that our people were torn about TEC’s shift away from historic Anglican beliefs, but we remained part of the denomination, until last year, when it ruled that Bishop Lawrence had “abandoned” the church...”
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis (source)

“We were effectively fired upon under a flag of truce.”
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis (source)

October 2012
Episcopal Church Abandons Bishop and Diocese

The actions taken by the Episcopal Church make it clear that such freedom of expression is intolerable to them. It is this Diocese and its Bishop who have been abandoned; left behind by a denomination that has chosen a radically different path from that of its founders.  For that reason, we have disassociated ourselves from the Episcopal Church and will meet again in Convention on November 17th to consider further responses to these actions by the denomination we helped found.

“It is the Episcopal Church which has left the faith in the dust; they have changed, while we have remained faithful.”
The Rev. Dr. Frank E. Larisey, Rector, Church of the Redeemer, Orangeburg (source)

“We do not wish malice against anyone who wishes to embrace TEC’s vision of faith. But neither will we allow them to impose their vision on us.”
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis (source)

October 20, 2012
Diocese Releases Statement Regarding Disassociation from the Episcopal Church

For many years the diocese of South Carolina has opposed the primary theological direction of the national Episcopal Church (TEC). As TEC leadership has moved away from the claim of Jesus’ uniqueness, the authority of Holy Scripture, the meaning of marriage and the nature of what it means to be human, we have had to be more steadfast in our defense of these truths, and more vocal and strong in our opposition to TEC’s disavowal of them.

“We are called by God to clearly, unequivocally, and completely disassociate ourselves from The Episcopal Church whose recent actions have called into question long-standing Christian beliefs.”
The Rev. Arthur Jenkins, Rector, Saint James Church, James Island (source)

“They left us. You may agree with us about this, or you may find that TEC’s revisions are appropriate. But whatever you believe, those personal opinions should not prevent us – or others – from practicing our faith.”
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis (source)

January 4, 2013
One of America’s Oldest Dioceses Files Lawsuit to Prevent the Episcopal Church From Seizing Local Parishes and ‘Hijacking’ Their Identities

The Diocese of South Carolina, the Trustees of the Diocese and congregations representing the vast majority of its baptized members today filed suit in South Carolina Circuit Court against The Episcopal Church to protect the Diocese’s real and personal property and that of its parishes.

The suit also asks the court to prevent The Episcopal Church from infringing on the protected marks of the Diocese, including its seal and its historical names, and to prevent the church from assuming the Diocese’s identity, which was established long before The Episcopal Church’s creation.

“We have decided to take this drastic action in order to protect our name and property...It is beyond imagining that The Episcopal Church has announced its intent to take our property and our very identity.”
The Rev. Michael Clarkson, Rector, The Church of Our Saviour, Kiawah, Seabrook and Johns Islands (source)

January 31, 2013
TEC Agrees to Injunction that Prohibits Them From Using Diocese of SC Identity

The Episcopal Church (TEC) opted to forgo court on Friday and not put up a fight as South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein today issued a Temporary Injunction to replace the Temporary Restraining Order she signed on January 23 to block TEC, its continuing parishes, individuals, organizations or any entity associated with it from, using, assuming or adopting, in any way, directly or indirectly, the registered names and the seal or mark of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina.

“It seems reasonable to expect that we should be able to do this without the threat of having our property taken from us by The Episcopal Church because we refuse to accept innovations which we find repugnant to the Faith once delivered.”
The Very Rev. Peet Dickinson, Dean, The Cathedral of Saint Luke and Saint Paul, Charleston (source)

February 3, 2015
SC Circuit Court Rules Diocese Keeps Historic Property

South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein, ruled that The Diocese of South Carolina, The Trustees of the Diocese and 36 parish churches successfully withdrew from The Episcopal Church in 2012 taking with them all their property, including churches, symbols and other assets. The ruling is the result of a three-week trial last summer in which over 50 witnesses testified.

“At no point in our history has the National Church contributed financially to the building or maintenance of any of our church buildings, facilities, or ministries.”
The Rev. Ken Weldon, Rector, St. John’s Church, Florence (source)

“Many of our parishes and the Diocese of South Carolina pre-date the establishment of The Episcopal Church.”
The Rev. Ken Weldon, Rector, St. John’s Church, Florence (source)

February 23, 2015
Diocese of South Carolina Defends Its Property Against Another Episcopal Church Appeal

The Diocese of South Carolina today argued to the state Supreme Court that a judge’s February ruling that the Episcopal Church (TEC) has “no legal, equitable or beneficial interest” in the Diocese’s properties was correct and consistent with South Carolina law.

“While TEC attempts to portray us as bigots, the real issue is religious freedom.”
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis (source)

 “And, since that religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed in the United States, we believe that the people who built and paid for the disassociated parishes and dioceses have a right to their property.”
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis (source)

August 2, 2017
South Carolina Supreme Court Releases Divided Opinion on Diocese of South Carolina and its Historic Property

In a 77-page opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court today reversed portions of an earlier lower court ruling.

The dissenting justices expressed concern regarding the long-term implications of this decision. Former Chief Justice Jean Toal stated that the court should have relied on “over three hundred years of settled trust and property law… I believe the effect of the majority’s decision is to strip a title owner of its property…” on the basis of actions that do not create a trust interest under South Carolina law. In concurring with Justice Toal, Justice Kittredge observed of other church properties where there is affiliation with a national organization, based on this ruling, “if you think your property ownership is secure, think again.”

“Anglican leaders from around the world have sent messages of support for the diocese.”
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis (source)

September 1, 2017
Diocese of South Carolina and 29 Parish Churches File Motion for Rehearing in State Supreme Court

Citing significant departures from both state and federal precedents, the Diocese of South Carolina and 29 parish churches today filed a petition for rehearing in the South Carolina Supreme Court.

A motion to recuse Justice Kaye G. Hearn was also filed by the Diocese, the Trustees and the same parish churches due to her significant personal interest in the outcome of the case and it argues that she had a duty to recuse herself.

“[T]he basic rights to a fair and impartial tribunal were denied Respondents because when Justice Hearn participated in this appeal she did so despite the fact that her past statements were clear demonstrations of her actual bias.”
Lawrence J. Fox, Professor of Ethics at Yale University (source)

“In my opinion Justice Hearn does have personal bias or prejudice in favor of the defendants and against the plaintiffs.”
Nathan M. Crystal, Professor of Ethics at University of South Carolina and NYU (source)

“It seems to me self-evident that this is a case in which reasonable people would have doubts about her impartiality.”
Nathan M. Crystal, Professor of Ethics at University of South Carolina and NYU (source)

“This case presents [the Supreme Court] with a serious threat to the principles that judges, regardless of the Court on which they sit, must be independent, impartial and act with integrity.”
Lawrence J. Fox, Professor of Ethics at Yale University (source)

September 19, 2017

Episcopal Church Responds to the Diocese of South Carolina's Motions for Recusal and Rehearing

On behalf of the Diocese of South Carolina, Rev. Canon Jim Lewis issued the following statement:

“Today’s filing by The Episcopal Church argues in essence, that the Diocese and its parishes waived their right to recusal, by not requesting it earlier, and that the Constitutional issues raised in their motions are negligible or mistaken. The facts in this ruling, as it presently stands however, will not yield to such arguments. Justice Hearn’s bias and conflict of interest is clear to any impartial observer. The Constitutional issues for Freedom of Religion remain. As our petition for rehearing stated: 'These are serious issues for Respondents, Appellants and for all religious organizations in South Carolina. This Court should grant a rehearing.' That continues to be our hope and Constitutional expectation from the Court.”

September 25, 2017

Diocese of South Carolina Rebuts TEC Recusal and Rehearing Arguments 

Statement by the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis:

“Today’s filings by the Diocese of South Carolina address the property law issues at the heart of this case. TEC failed to establish a trust interest in property, of any sort, that can be recognized under 300 years of existing South Carolina legal precedent. And to claim such an interest now is to grant TEC favored status against the Diocese and its parishes, establishing one church body over another. This is inconsistent with opinions of the United States Supreme Court that truly “neutral” principles of state law must be applied as they would be in any other case.

February 9, 2018

Diocese of South Carolina Files Petition with United States Supreme Court

On Friday, February 9 the Diocese of South Carolina and its parishes took the historic step of filing a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.  The requested review of the adverse ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court focuses on addressing the key constitutional questions in that case.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that church property disputes may be settled by applying “neutral principles of law”.  The South Carolina Supreme Court has interpreted that precedent as meaning that some religious institutions (such as TEC) are subject to standards of trust and ownership that would never be recognized under state law for anyone else. As Justice Kittredge in his opinion aptly stated, under truly neutral principles of law, “the suggestion that any of the thirty-six local churches created a trust in favor of the national church would be laughable.”

Our Petition addresses as the central issue in our litigation the following question:  Whether the “neutral principles of law” approach to resolving church property disputes requires courts to recognize a trust on church property even if the alleged trust does not comply with the State’s ordinary trust and property law.” (Petition, p. i)

Supplemental Information

·       Frequently Asked Questions

·       Participating Plaintiffs

·       Media Coverage

·       Articles of Interest, Letters of Support & Documents of Interest

·       Press Releases

·       Photo GalleryIf you need photos in higher resolution, contact Joy Hunter.

·       Legal Documents

·       Rectors Speak OutStatements from those in litigation.

·       Glossary of Terms

·       Spokespersons Biographies

·       Stewardship of the Gospel – A theological reflection on lawsuits.

·       Circuit Court Daily Trial Updates

Contact Information


Jim Lewis, (843) 424-7387

Joy Hunter, (843) 696-1757


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