COLUMBIA, S.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today The Episcopal Church (TEC) filed their reply, as requested by the Court, to the motions by the Diocese of South Carolina and 28 parish churches for recusal and rehearing in the South Carolina Supreme Court, regarding its recent ruling in Appellate Case No. 2015-000622.
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.”
The Diocese also provided the following list of additional details:
- 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).
- The Constitutional due process requirements of the 14th Amendment are clear. No member of government should make decisions in matters in which they have a vested interest in the outcome. The Justice in this ruling who provided the deciding vote is a member of a TEC parish, Diocese and its national church. Under South Carolina law, that Justice is a legal party to this litigation. The bodies to which this Justice belongs as a member would be the beneficiaries of a nearly $500 million property windfall if this ruling stands. That is a massive conflict of interest. And it is the responsibility of the judge, under the South Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, to reveal that issue, not for a party in the case to challenge the propriety of their actions.
- The expert affidavit testimonies of Nathan M. Crystal, Professor and Adjunct Professor of Ethics at the University of South Carolina and NYU Schools of Law and Lawrence J. Fox, Professor of Ethics at Yale University are unanimous in their conclusions. The due process rights of the Diocese of South Carolina have been violated by these actions and the only appropriate response is for this Justice to be recused from further participation in this case and their opinion vacated. As Lawrence Fox observes in his analysis, “This is not a close case.” The violations of due process here are not subtle. They are profound.
- As the request for rehearing states, “The majority has fashioned a neutral principals standard for religious organizations under South Carolina property, trust and corporate law that admittedly would not be applied to secular organizations.”
- As Justice Kittredge noted in his dissenting opinion, “The message is clear for churches in South Carolina that are affiliated in any manner with a national organization and have never lifted a finger to transfer control or ownership of their property—if you think your property ownership is secure, think again.”
- Former Chief Justice Jean Toal, in her dissenting opinion had this observation to make about its impact on the property rights of the Diocese of South Carolina. “The lead opinion in this case is nothing less than judicial sanction of the confiscation of church property masquerading as an attempt to promulgate a new deference rule for determining title in this matter.”
- The Rev. Jeff Miller, rector of St. Philip’s, Charleston, the mother-church of the Diocese, rightly describes the consequence of the existing ruling. “Religious freedom in these cherished, sacred spaces dating back to 1680 will be denied, and these properties taken away. This freedom will be denied, not because tens of thousands of parishioners have changed their beliefs, but rather because they have not. Members of St. Philip’s and the other Diocesan congregations adhere to the faith of their fathers and grandfathers, of great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers, the historic faith of Christians as practiced for 2,000 years.”
A copy of the Diocese’s filed Petition, Motion and Affidavits can be found here:
Supreme Court’s Current Ruling and Video of Oral Arguments:
Judge Goodstein’s Orders from Trial Court:
South Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct
Canon 2 - http://www.sccourts.org/courtreg/displayRule.cfm?ruleID=501.0&subRuleID=Canon%202&ruleType=APP
Canon 3 - http://www.sccourts.org/courtreg/displayRule.cfm?ruleID=501.0&subRuleID=Canon%203&ruleType=APP
History of the Case and The Diocese of South Carolina:
About the Diocese of South Carolina
The Diocese was founded in 1785 by the parishes of the former South Carolina colony. Four years later the Diocese became a founding diocese of the Episcopal Church. Based in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the Diocese is one of the oldest religious districts in the United States and counts among its members several of the oldest, operating churches in the nation.
The Diocese of South Carolina is a member of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and recognized by Anglican Dioceses and Provinces around the world, many of whom have broken fellowship with The Episcopal Church. In 2013 the Diocese joined the global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and entered into a formal relationship of Provisional Primatial Oversight with the Global South Primates. It was welcomed as a member diocese of the ACNA in June 2017.