Episcopal dispute may play out in two courts

cclick@thestate.comApril 8, 2013 

— An official with the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina said Monday he believes the dispute over who has the right to claim the centuries-old diocese name and properties in the Lowcountry should be decided in state court, not federal.

“We believe the issues belong in state court,” the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary, said. “We certainly have plenty of state precedent in our favor.”

Bishop Mark R. Lawrence led a majority of clergy and parishioners out of the national Episcopal church (TEC) last year, igniting a battle with those congregations remaining behind over who may claim themselves as the Diocese of South Carolina.

Those clergy and congregations remaining with the national church, now operating under the name The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, filed a motion last week to move the question into the federal court arena. Bishop Charles vonRosenberg was elected bishop of those congregations at a Jan. 26 convention in Charleston that drew the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church.

“We have carefully examined the claims made against The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and inherent in all these claims are federal statutory and constitutional issues that must be decided in a federal court rather than in South Carolina state court,” Thomas S. Tisdale Jr., chancellor of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, said.

Lewis, as a representative of Lawrence, said he reads the issue differently. He said his organization is preparing a legal response.

“We believe it is a question of legal identity and those are the issues that will be decided in state court,” Lewis said. “They are trying to present it in federal court as questions of trademark infringement.”

In January, Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein issued a temporary restraining order that allowed Lawrence full use of the name and seal of the Diocese of South Carolina. The Episcopal Church leaders have said they were not given notice of that hearing.

Historically, there have been two Episcopal dioceses in South Carolina, with the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina representing Lowcountry Episcopalians and the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina representing congregations in the Midlands and Upstate.

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