Diocese of South Carolina Rebuts TEC Recusal and Rehearing Arguments
Today the Diocese of South Carolina (Diocese) filed our Replies, to the Return by The Episcopal Church (TEC) to our motions for recusal and rehearing in the South Carolina Supreme Court, regarding its recent ruling in Appellate Case No. 2015-000622.
Statement by the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis:
“Today’s filings by the Diocese of South Carolina address the property law issues at the heart of this case. TEC failed to establish a trust interest in property, of any sort, that can be recognized under 300 years of existing South Carolina legal precedent. And to claim such an interest now is to grant TEC favored status against the Diocese and its parishes, establishing one church body over another. This is inconsistent with opinions of the United States Supreme Court that truly “neutral” principles of state law must be applied as they would be in any other case.
Further, the timeliness of our request for recusal is not an issue before an appellate court. The public confidence in and the credibility of the Court is! The most effective way to assure both is the recusal of Justice Hearn and the vacating of her opinion. A ruling free from conflict of interest is not a right that can be waived.”
The Diocese also provided the following list of additional details:
- In 2012, the Diocese of South Carolina, along with 50 of its congregations voted by an 80% margin to disassociate from The Episcopal Church. In a complicated and sharply divided ruling consisting of five separate opinions, the S.C. Supreme Court appeared to rule on August 2 this year that parishes which had “acceded” to the national church are subject to a trust interest in their property by (TEC).
- Conclusion to today’s Reply in Support of Motion to Recuse: “The depth of Justice Hearn’s connection to this case warrants her disqualification pursuant to Canon 3E to ensure the promotion of public confidence in the integrity of the Court and in this decision. Justice Hearn should recuse herself and the Court should vacate her opinion.”
- Conclusion to our Reply in Support of Motion to Rehear: There is no basis under this Court’s or the United States Supreme Court’s precedents or South Carolina trust law for the outcome that the Court reached based on the principles the Court stated that it applied. … The result reached by the majority… is incompatible with South Carolina law.
- Over one hundred ten clergy from around the state of South Carolina, representing 10 different denominations, have come together to express their support for the Diocese and their concern for the Constitutional issues raised by our Supreme Court ruling. “If one religious group can be treated in this fashion today, there is good cause for concern that others may fare no better in the future.”
- The Rev. Jeff Miller, rector of St. Philip’s, Charleston, the mother-church of the Diocese, rightly describes the consequence of the existing ruling. “Religious freedom in these cherished, sacred spaces dating back to 1680 will be denied, and these properties taken away. This freedom will be denied, not because tens of thousands of parishioners have changed their beliefs, but rather because they have not. Members of St. Philip’s and the other Diocesan congregations adhere to the faith of their fathers and grandfathers, of great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers, the historic faith of Christians as practiced for 2,000 years.”
- The Justice in this ruling who provided the deciding vote is a member of a TEC parish, Diocese and its national church, who would be the beneficiaries of a nearly $500 million property windfall if the current ruling stands. That is a massive conflict of interest. It is the responsibility of the judge, under the South Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, to reveal that issue, not for a party in the case to challenge the propriety of their actions.
- The expert affidavit testimonies of Nathan M. Crystal, Professor and Adjunct Professor of Ethics at the University of South Carolina and NYU Schools of Law and Lawrence J. Fox, Professor of Ethics at Yale University are unanimous in concluding the due process rights of the Diocese of South Carolina have been violated by these actions and the only appropriate response is for this Justice to be recused from further participation in this case and their opinion vacated.
- As Justice Kittredge noted in his dissenting opinion, “The message is clear for churches in South Carolina that are affiliated in any manner with a national organization and have never lifted a finger to transfer control or ownership of their property—if you think your property ownership is secure, think again.”
- Former Chief Justice Jean Toal, in her dissenting opinion, had this observation to make about its impact on the property rights of the Diocese of South Carolina. “The lead opinion in this case is nothing less than judicial sanction of the confiscation of church property masquerading as an attempt to promulgate a new deference rule for determining title in this matter.”
A copy of today’s filed Replies can be found here: