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Conflicted Judge Advocates In SC Religious Freedom Case




|| By FITSNEWS || The Supreme Court of South Carolina heard oral arguments this month related to the Palmetto State’s ongoing “Episcopal Schism.”  This, of course, is the battle over religious liberty that was first uncovered by this website back in late 2012.

Leading the fight?  “Rogue Bishop” Mark Lawrence of Charleston, S.C. – an 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.  In response to his excommunication, Lawrence announced his intention to disassociate South Carolina’s Lower Diocese from the national church – a threat he made good on.  Thus ensued a massive legal battle between the liberal national Episcopal Church (TEC) and Lawrence’s breakaway faction.

From the beginning of this fight, we’ve been on Lawrence’s side – a.k.a. the side of religious freedom.

“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,” we wrote at one point.

Also supporting the breakaway denomination’s right to religious freedom?  S.C. circuit court judge Diane Goodstein – who ruled back in February that those who left the national church were entitled to do so.

“With the freedom to associate goes its corollary, the freedom to disassociate,” Goodstein ruled.

Amen to that.



The litigious national church isn’t giving up, though, believing they have an ace in the hole as their appeal moves to the highest court in the Palmetto State.  Their trump card?  S.C. Supreme Court justice Kaye Hearn – a liberal Episcopalian who is deeply conflicted as it relates to this debate.

Hearn and her husband – former S.C. Rep. George Hearn – are members of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Conway, S.C., one of the congregations which was formed in the aftermath of the schism by leaders loyal to the liberal national church.  In fact George Hearn is a member of the parish’s vestry and mission committee.

Perhaps not surprisingly the vicar at St. Anne’s – Barry Stopfel – is openly gay. In addition to being the co-author of a book called Courage to Love, A Gay Priest Stands Up For His Beliefs, Stopfel’s online biography states that he is “currently working on a book about fathers and gay sons.” Prior to that, his bio states that he was a “guest lecturer at colleges and universities on religion and social justice and the Bible and human sexuality with a focus on LGBT Christians.”

Good for him …

Seriously, we’ve got no problem with any of that.  If a majority of Stopfel’s parishioners approve of his lifestyle – and his teachings on homosexuality – more power to them.  They are entitled to worship as they see fit.

And no one should compel them to worship otherwise … (thus our views on government and marriage).

Our beef?  The fact that one of Stopfel’s parishioners is a Supreme Court justice seeking to deny others the same right. Not only that, Hearn is evidencing what one attorney referred to as an “absolutely clear bias” in this case.

Hearn’s bias is detailed in this blog post which contains excerpts from this month’s hearing.  Confirming what the attorney told us, the blog’s author A.S. Haley accuses Hearn of making “advocacy speeches” on behalf of the liberal national church – speeches which were “scarcely proper for a sitting justice to make in a case presented for decision before an impartial court.”

“This was truly a disgraceful performance and display of impropriety by one of the country’s highest sitting judges,” Haley wrote.

Having read the transcripts, we concur.  Based on what we read, Hearn isn’t trying to impartially judge this case, she’s clearly advocating on behalf of one of the parties – repeatedly injecting herself into the debate in support of the liberal national church.

Not surprisingly, those loyal to the liberal church were thrilled by her advocacy.



“I was gratified by the experience in the courtroom today,” liberal Bishop Charles G. vonRosenburg said after the deliberations were complete.

This is not the way cases are supposed to be decided.  In fact there are laws designed to prevent precisely these sorts of conflicts from improperly influencing judicial debate.

“A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability or age,” one of the canons states.

Beyond the religious bias, the canon also requires judge to disqualify themselves in the event there is “a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party” in the case.

Why is that relevant?  Well, Hearn isn’t just a member of a church with a direct stake in the outcome of this debate – she and her husband are also signatory members of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a group of liberal Episcopalians.  Not only does this group pledge its allegiance to the national church – it pushed for disciplinary action against Bishop Lawrence in the aftermath of the schism.

Whatever one thinks of the merits of this case, this is as cut-and-dried an example of improper judicial bias as we have ever seen.

Kaye Hearn has no right to sit in judgment over this schism, period.  She must recuse herself immediately.