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State Supreme Court denies Episcopal Church petition

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The S.C. Supreme Court has denied a petition from The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina asking the court to enforce its decision about 29 properties currently held by a breakaway group.

The Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, which broke away from the national Episcopal Church in 2012, must return the properties, which include St. Philip’s Church on Church Street and St. Michael’s Church on Broad Street.

That ruling, which reversed a 2015 circuit court decision, was written collectively by all five justices, and some of their opinions were contradictory. The task of enforcement then fell to 1st Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Episcopal Church argued in March that Dickson had “unduly delayed” acting and the Supreme Court needed to step in.

But in an order (.pdf) issued Friday, the Supreme Court denied the petition, saying that it believes Dickson will work to resolve the matters.

“We are confident that respondent (Dickson) will resolve the petition to enforce the judgment, as well as any related matters that are pending, in an expeditious manner,” the court wrote.

Four of the five Supreme Court justices signed the order; Justice Kaye Hearn did not participate. The breakaway group had previously asked the Supreme Court to vacate Hearn’s opinion in the August 2017 decision because she had helped start a parish that aligns itself with The Episcopal Church. The Supreme Court denied that motion.

The Diocese of South Carolina said in a news release that the Supreme Court’s denial is a welcome decision.

“This is very good news,” said the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis in an email to members of the diocese. “It affirms that Judge Dickson will not be compelled to interpret the Supreme Court’s August 2017 ruling in accordance with the TECSC legal analysis. The court has made clear that Judge Dickson will be the one to resolve the issues arising from their earlier decision.”

The Episcopal Church and the diocese are also involved in a federal trademark lawsuit that is expected to go to trial later this year.

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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