A Lowcountry circuit court judge has rejected efforts by the national Episcopalian Church (TEC) and its South Carolina affiliate (TECSC) to unnecessarily broaden a costly legal jihad against a breakaway Palmetto State diocese.
Judge Diane Goodstein ruled this week that four individuals associated with the breakaway diocese will not have to stand trial for their actions during the state’s Great Episcopal Schism – in which several socially conservative congregations decided to leave the national church on theological grounds.
“Attorneys for both TEC and TECSC have tried to distract attention from the denomination’s efforts to seize our property by suing our clergy and pursuing our lay leadership,” a representative of the breakaway “The judge’s decision ends the legal fishing expedition and forces all to focus on the only issue that matters: whether our religious freedom is protected.”
Indeed. Good for Goodstein.
“TEC has historically used the courts to punish parishes and dioceses who disagree with the denomination’s shifting theology,” the website Anglican Ink notes. “The group has already spent more than $22 million on legal efforts to seize individual church property and evict parishioners. At times when judges have ruled against TEC, the denomination has filed time-consuming appeals that have tied up resources of churches and Dioceses which separated from TEC and, occasionally, worn down the resolve of individuals seeking religious freedom.”
Last year FITS broke the story of “rogue Bishop” Mark Lawrence of Charleston, S.C. – the Episcopal priest who was booted from the national church for refusing to adopt its views on gay marriage and the ordination of gay and female clergy.
As a result of the church’s action against him, Lawrence announced his intention to disassociate South Carolina’s Lower Diocese from the national church – a threat he made good on.
The schism has prompted a protracted legal battle – with Lawrence and other leaders of the breakaway diocese being accused of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, trademark infringement and civil conspiracy, among other things. According to the national church the result of these alleged actions has been to “deprive Episcopalians loyal to the Episcopal Church of their property rights.”
The South Carolina suit is ground zero in the battle taking place all across the country between socially liberal and socially conservative congregations in multiple protestant denominations.
As we have stated from the beginning of this process, we believe individual congregations should be allowed to worship as they see fit – associating or disassociating with national denominations as they wish. If a simple majority of a church’s members determines it wishes to enter or leave a specific denomination – then it should be permitted to do so.