In a 46 page opinion, South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein, ruled that The Diocese of South Carolina, The Trustees of the Diocese and 36 parish churches successfully withdrew from The Episcopal Church in 2012 taking with them all their property, including churches, symbols and other assets. The ruling is the result of a three-week trial last summer in which over 50 witnesses testified.
The historic ruling comprehensively resolves the issues surrounding the more than $500 million in property owned by the Diocese and its parishes, which disassociated from the denomination in 2012 after TEC improperly attempted to remove Bishop Mark Lawrence as head of the Diocese.
The judge’s decision found baseless TEC’s claim that it owned the Diocese’s identity and properties. During the trial, the Diocese demonstrated that it existed long before TEC was established – and that it was one of the dioceses that founded the denomination in 1789. It also proved that every diocese is free to associate with a denomination of its choosing.
The Court found that “the Constitution and Canons of TEC have no provisions which state that a member diocese cannot voluntarily withdraw its membership.” The ruling found that had there been such a provision, it would have violated the Diocese’s “constitutionally-protected right” to freedom of association. “With the freedom to associate goes its corollary, the freedom to disassociate,” Judge Goodstein said.
The Court also found that TEC had “no express or constructive trust” in Diocese or Parish property.
Finally, the Court issued a permanent injunction protecting all the Diocese’s names and marks as well as those for the parishes of St. Phillip’s, St. Michael’s, and the Parish Church of St. Helena. The Court further found, “It is also clear, as to the Diocese, that the Defendants ‘willfully intended to trade on the registrant’s reputation’ and that they chose, intentionally, to use the names and seal of the Diocese as strategic support for TECSC’s purposes. This strategy was not simply one of TECSC’ s but was one that TEC benefited from and promoted.”