The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina and 29 parishes that broke away from The Episcopal Church in 2012 have filed a motion for a rehearing in state Supreme Court after last month’s ruling that the breakaway group must return church property to The Episcopal Church.
“It is incomprehensible that a parish like St. Philip’s in Charleston, that was worshipping here 100 years before TEC even existed, can have that place of worship taken from them and given to an unincorporated New York association who contributed nothing to its building or preservation,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, canon to the ordinary for the Diocese of South Carolina, in an email to the Diocese. “This is a principle worth fighting for.”
The S.C. Supreme Court decision in early August forcing 29 breakaway parishes to return their property, including St. Philip’s Church on Church Street and St. Michael’s Church on Broad Street, reversed a 2015 decision by a circuit court judge.
In the motion for rehearing (.pdf), the Diocese of South Carolina says the ruling that parishes acceded to the Dennis Canon and created an irrevocable trust, which was the crux of the Supreme Court decision, “is erroneous,” and proof of accession shown at the trial does not support the opinions given by the court.
The motion also says the decision creates a precedent for religious organizations in South Carolina that wouldn’t be applied to secular ones.
The breakaway parishes “chose to disassociate, exercising their right of association under the United States and South Carolina constitutions which this court has recognized,” the motion says. “Yet, according to the majority, that constitutionally protected decision requires a massive transfer of centuries-old real and personal property when it would not be required for a secular South Carolina organization.”
The breakaway group also filed a motion (.pdf) to recuse Justice Kaye Hearn from the rehearing and vacate her opinion in last month’s decision on the basis that she has a vested interest in the outcome of the case.
Hearn was a member of a breakaway parish in Conway before helping start a new parish under The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, which aligns itself with The Episcopal Church, in 2013.
“The due process clauses of the United States and South Carolina constitutions ... required that Justice Hearn make disclosures and disqualify herself from participation in this matter,” the motion says. “Because she did neither, and instead participated by writing an opinion favoring the appellants, her opinion should be stricken and vacated.”
The breakaway group left the national Episcopal Church after it tried to remove the Right Rev. Mark Lawrence as bishop. Disagreements about homosexuality and other “moral issues” also divided the church.