Court blocks loyalist convention for Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina


Court blocks loyalist convention for Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina


George Conger

The First Judicial Circuit Court in South Carolina has issued a Temporary Restraining Order forbidding any “individual, organization, association or entity” from using the name, symbols or seal of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina – save for Bishop Mark J. Lawrence and the trustees of the diocese.

The 23 January 2013 order handed down by Judge Diane Goodstein effectively blocks the Episcopal Church and its allies from electing a bishop and standing committee for the minority faction loyal to the national church for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

However, canon lawyer Allan Haley notes the ruling does not prevent those in the diocese who wish to remain affiliated with the national Episcopal Church “from meeting, but they will have to adopt a different name.”

After reviewing the order, Mr. Haley told Anglican Ink the TRO was “granted ex parte as a matter of urgency, and holds in place only until the Court can hear argument on a preliminary injunction pending trial of the matter. As such, it was granted without ECUSA or its faux diocese having made an appearance in the case, and will be in effect only until the hearing set for Feb. 1.”

On 4 Jan 2013 the trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (including Bishop Mark Lawrence) and 15 congregations filed suit against the national church alleging that its agents had committed identity theft by using its name, symbols and seal and by holding out the Presiding Bishop the “steering committee” of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as the lawful diocesan ecclesiastical authority.  The complaint further alleged the national church had slandered the title to diocesan and congregational property by stating it held an interest in all church property in South Carolina.

An amended complaint filed on 22 Jan, which added 16 additional congregations as plaintiffs, also asked for a TRO from the court. In the recitation of facts the court stated the diocese owned the trademarks and service marks of the name of the diocese, and had withdrawn from the national Episcopal Church.  “After that withdrawal”, the diocese had alleged that agents of the national church had unlawfully used the name, symbols and seal of the diocese and had “misled others as to the ownership of these registered names and seal.”

The diocese further stated that at the special convention called by Bishop Jefferts Schori for 26 Jan, it believed the loyalist faction “intended to make unauthorized corporate changes” to the diocesan constitution and canons, thereby causing the diocese harm.

“The use of the names and marks of the Diocese of South Carolina can affect its goodwill, its third party relationships and create confusion among those with whom it deals in the ordinary course of its business. In short, the ongoing business of the Diocese of South Carolina could be irreparably injured if corporate changes occur in its name, implemented by those without actual corporate authority,” the order stated.

In “order to avoid confusion”, the court agreed to issue the order preserving the status quo and blocking the loyalist faction from using the name, symbol and seals of the diocese, and scheduled a hearing for 1 Feb to hear argument on the matter.

In a statement issued late this afternoon, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina stated by this order: “The judge effectively prevents TEC, a voluntary association, and the parishes who support it, from claiming to own or operate the Diocese of South Carolina, an entity that it insists it owns but whose very existence predates The Episcopal Church.”

The Provisional Bishop-designate of South Carolina, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, told Anglican Ink: “We are aware of the temporary restraining order.  Our intention is to carry out our duties on behalf of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina when we meet at the special convention, and at the same time, we intend to continue to take care in using language which might be offensive to others.”

While the TRO is in effect for only ten days, and expires unless the court issues an injunction that would keep the order in force pending final adjudication of the issue, legal scholars note the issuance of a TRO speaks to the strength of the diocese’s case.  The text of the order stated: “The South Carolina Supreme Court has ‘explicitly reaffirmed that when resolving church dispute cases. South Carolina courts are to apply the neutral principles of law approach’.”

Mr. Haley stated that he expected the national church’s attorneys to offer a vigorous challenge to the TRO at the 1 Feb hearing. “But it would appear that the court has already found most, if not all, of the case against them,” he added.

South Carolina TRO 23 Jan 2013 by