South Carolina: Injunction sought to protect Episcopal diocese

Posted Mar 7, 2013

[Episcopal Church in South Carolina] A motion filed today (March 7) asks the U.S. District Court to grant a preliminary injunction to stop Mark Lawrence from using the name and marks of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and from representing that his activities are associated with the diocese.

The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg, the person who is actually recognized as the Bishop of the Diocese by The Episcopal Church, needs immediate relief to prevent Bishop Lawrence from further undermining his leadership of the diocese, according to a memorandum filed with the motion.

Bishop Lawrence’s actions violate the federal trademark law known as the Lanham Act, misleading worshipers and donors, causing confusion, and harming the reputation of the diocese, the memo says.

“In holding himself out as the representative of the Diocese and in using the Diocese’s exact marks, there is no doubt that Bishop Lawrence has endeavored to create the very public confusion that the Lanham Act was designed to prohibit,” the memo says.

Bishop vonRosenberg filed a complaint on March 5 asking the federal court to declare that only he has the authority to act in the name of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

“What we hope the court will recognize is the inherent right of The Episcopal Church to govern its own affairs as is guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Bishop vonRosenberg said.

Bishop vonRosenberg is represented by Thomas S. Tisdale of Hellman, Yates & Tisdale of Charleston; Palmer C. Hamilton of the Washington, DC and Mobile, Alabama offices of Jones Walker; and Matthew D. McGill of the Washington, DC office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

“Bishop Lawrence had every right to leave The Episcopal Church, but he can’t take the Diocese’s name and intellectual property with him,” said McGill, who practices in his firm’s constitutional law and intellectual property groups. “The Diocese is part of The Episcopal Church.  The notion that Bishop Lawrence and his followers can decide to dissociate the Diocese from the Church and keep it for themselves is foreclosed by an unbroken line of Supreme Court precedent stretching back at least 140 years.”

In October 2012, after a Disciplinary Board of The Episcopal Church found Bishop Lawrence had engaged in conduct “constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church,” the Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, restricted Bishop Lawrence from exercising his ministry.

In response, Bishop Lawrence announced that he and the diocese had disassociated from The Episcopal Church.  After the Presiding Bishop accepted Bishop Lawrence’s renunciation of ministry in The Episcopal Church, she convened a Special Convention of the Diocese on January 26 where Bishop vonRosenberg was elected and invested as Provisional Bishop of the diocese.

The Episcopal Church is a “hierarchical” church, meaning that it is governed by a common authority, the General Convention, with regional bodies – dioceses – that are subordinate, and individual parishes and missions that are subordinate to their dioceses. The hierarchical nature of The Episcopal Church has been recognized in decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court dating back to 1872.

Under the First Amendment, when a religious dispute over church governance or doctrine arises in a hierarchical church, civil courts are required to defer to the determinations of the hierarchical church.  When a similar dispute arose in the hierarchical Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church, the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that the First Amendment forbid civil courts from questioning the determination of church authorities as to who was the true bishop of a diocese and whether the diocese was part of the hierarchical church.  (Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich 1976.)

Affidavits filed on March 7 in support of the case include statements from:

–       – Dr. Walter Edgar, Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and author of “South Carolina: A History,” who notes that there is no historical support for the notion that the Diocese of South Carolina was one of the “founders” of The Episcopal Church, or that its formation predates the establishment of The Episcopal Church. In fact, “it was the actions of the organizers of The Episcopal Church that actually precipitated the formation of a structure for the parishes in South Carolina,” Dr. Edgar writes. “The South Carolina organization did not even have a bishop until 1795, six years after the formation of The Episcopal Church.” The Episcopal Church’s Constitution was adopted in 1789, and the Diocese of South Carolina acceded to that Constitution in 1790. That accession stayed in place continuously, Dr. Edgar noted, until Bishop Lawrence and others aligned with him took actions that purported to remove the accession clause and other references to The Episcopal Church from the diocese’s Constitution and Canons.

– Dr. Robert Bruce Mullin, historian and professor at the General Theological Seminary in New York City and a noted authority on religion in America, with a special focus on The Episcopal Church. His 70-page statement provides an in-depth analysis of the hierarchical nature of The Episcopal Church throughout its history, and examines whether a diocese “may exercise a purported right to withdraw” from it. According to Dr. Mullin’s statement, it is clear that “the ultimate source of the authority in the Church is the General Convention, not its individual dioceses, and that every diocese, once formed and admitted into union with the General Convention, remains bound by the rules of the Church and may not unilaterally withdraw or disaffiliate from the General Convention.”

– The Right Reverend Dorsey F. Henderson, Jr., who retired in 2009 as Bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina and served as President of The Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops that heard the complaints filed against Bishop Lawrence. Bishop Henderson’s affidavit describes the evidence presented and how the board eventually found that Bishop Lawrence’s conduct constituted “abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

– The Right Reverend John C. Buchanan, now the Provisional Bishop of the Diocese of Quincy, Illinois and a native of the Diocese of South Carolina, who notes that the name “the Diocese of South Carolina” has always been understood by the public to stand for an organization that is part of The Episcopal Church. The fact that Bishop Lawrence is using the name and seal of the Diocese, particularly on his website, is confusing and misleading people who think Bishop Lawrence’s organization is “Episcopal” even though it has withdrawn from the Church, Bishop Buchanan states.


Comments (26)

  1. Zachary Brooks says:

    Is there any idea of how long it will take to get a verdict?

  2. gary stanko says:

    The action by ECUSA vs Bishop lawrence et al seems to be a waste of money and flies in the face of respecting his dignity (and that of the diocese) and the “tolerance” for which the ECUSA now semmingly “prides” itself. See Mark 9 :”38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is [x]for us. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink [y]because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. “. So what is there are 2 EP Dioceses in SC: do they not both preach Christ and Him crucified? Are they both FOR Christ? So where is the problem requiring all this effort?

    1. CF McCann says:

      Lawrence withdrew from the Episcopal Church by his own choice. He has decided that he alone knows what the Episcopal Church should stand for and it is direct opposition to the beliefs of the church. His choice. Yet, he continues to try to benefit by the name of the Episcopal Church. He deserves all the grief he gets.

  3. Ronald Caldwell says:

    The Lawrence side went to the Circuit Court judge Goodstein and asked for a Temporary Restraining Order in January. She granted one quickly ex parte without even informing the TEC side ahead of time. She issued a 10-day TRO and called for an appearance on Feb. 1. at which time she would decide on granting a Temporary Injunction. At the last minute, the TEC side informed the judge they would not contest the Order; and the judge issued the TI against the vonRosenberg side on Jan. 31. That TI is still in effect.

    It seems to me that if the federal court in Charleston issues an injunction in favor of vonRosenberg it would show that they reject the state circuit court’s authority as they would be overruling the TI of Jan. 31. And if they do that, it seems reasonable to think they would proceed on to consider the suit in a favorable light.

    So, if the federal judge now issues an injunction against Lawrence, the vonRosenberg side should take heart.

    1. Carol McRee says:

      Alas, Why would the Federal Court do such a thing as described by Caldwell? More than likely, it will allow the state court case to proceed and then and only then will the federal case be considered. So, i guess you all were just a tad too late with your injunction. Your attorney agreed to the injunction against you and you know it. So please stop using a name that is not yours.

  4. Tod Roulette says:

    What if any actions does our national church have in the way of protections legally to keep dioceses from doing what S. Carolina has done? I am all for legal apparatus if it means preserving the resources for the national church and its ministries.

    1. Zachary Brooks says:

      Federal law has ruled overwhelmingly in favor of national churches in these cases, though state courts tend to go either way. The schismatics usually just hope that the National Church will get tired of endless appeals and give up. Either way, they’ve stolen just enough to set up an organization before the Episcopal Church can get its rightful patrimony back.

      1. Claire Tetra says:

        STOLEN? Forgive me, but it seems to me that the people who built the church and all its buildings, maintained them year after year, tended their grounds and lovingly cared for it all with the purpose of maintaining their place of worship are indeed the owners of that property, not some National Church that does nothing for those members, their pastor, an their other congregants except nefariously prosecute a case against said Pastor who is standing up for the right of his congregation to worship as they were taught.

        1. Bob Griffith says:

          Claire – Your comments may describe the case if the Episcopal Church were a congregational denomination, but it is not and never has been. Before I became an Episcopalian, I was an American-Evangelical who grew up in churches that were congregational in their polity. When I became an Episcopalian years ago, I had to realize that my assumptions about how churches were run had to change, because the polity of the Episcopal Church, like all “Catholic” Churches, was and is hierarchical. Local congregation do not own their property. That’s just the way it is, regardless of what we want to believe or assert.

          Part of this is a big failure of the clergy of the Church to teach that the Episcopal Church in its Anglican-Evangelical side is not like American-Evangelicals – we are not like most American-Evangelical churches, congregational. In the same lite, the Episcopal Church in its Anglo-Catholic side has not often done a good job teaching that while Anglicanism is a Catholic Church, we are not like the Roman Catholics.

          No matter what we as individuals or individual congregations what to believe or want to be, we do not own the local parish church or any of its buildings or the stuff in them (not even the endowments). That is just the way it is legally, and if we cannot abide in such a polity we can go to General Convention and try to change it or we can leave the Church. Those are our options, whether we like the current positions the present leadership takes or not.

        2. CF McCann says:

          The National Church is protecting the church property that was built and maintained by people (over tens of decades) who believe in the Episcopal National Church and in Episcopal ideals. That historical group cannot be shunted aside, because some faction of the church at this point in time thinks they know better what God had in mind when God created us all. The Episcopal Church must protect its property for future generations of Episcopalians.

  5. David Yarbrough says:

    The seal of the Diocese of South Carolina does not include the word “Episcopal”.

    And, since the majority of the parishes in lower South Carolina have aligned themselves with the Diocese of South Carolina (as opposed to “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina”), clearly the majority of the membership has rejected the leadership of 815.

    It’s time for both sides to negotiate a fair settlement – releasing the conservative parishes with their buildings and funds, equitably dividing diocesan assets, and agreeing to nomenclature. (I assure you that there’s no confusion among Episcopalians about who’s who).

    1. Think you are right on target, David. The situation stands and needs resolution rather than endless and expensive religious legal war where the only winners are those collecting billable hours in law offices.

    2. Chris Hardy says:

      In my humble opinion, Bishop Lawrence and his followers are welcome to leave the TEC. As a member of St Luke’s Episcopal Church in Hilton Head, SC it breaks my heart to see many of my friends leave the Episcopal Church. My family and many others that support the TEC have given to St Luke’s Episcopal Church in spirit, time, and money for 40 years. Much of this support has funded the building and expansion of the facility, grounds, and out-reach programs. This support was given to support God’s work through the Episcopal Church not to Bishop Lawrence and his followers. It is not Mark Lawrence’s right, nor the right of the current majority, to claim ownership of the facility without full payment of the fair market value to the TEC. Until then, the name and property must remain with the TEC and the ECUSA is right to do whatever it can to preserve it.

    3. Zachary Brooks says:

      Why? The Episcopal Church has every right to what Lawrence and his followers are trying to steal. We in the Episcopal Church owe him and his followers our prayers as fellow Christians, but we do not owe them churches.

    4. Claire Tetra says:

      I could not agree more. Is all this “gimme gimme” wrangling appropriate behavior for a religious entity? Perhaps it is for a church whose presiding Bishop has said she would rather see an Episcopal House of God become a whorehouse rather than remain in the hands of its conservative parishioners. And exactly when did conservatism become anathema in the Episcopal Church?

  6. Anthony Christiansem says:

    David and Ronald,
    You are simply wrong and I’m sure the courts will determine this to be the case — as they have in similar cases across the country. The parishes and properties that have belonged to the historic and continuing Episcopal Chuch still belong to them. The members of THIS church who have passed away built these parishes and meant that they be part of the patrimony of THIS church, not part of a breakaway sect that has been motivated by hatred and exclusion. May the justice we know in Jesus’s witness be realized!

    1. Claire Tetra says:

      Being closely related to a Founding Member of my church, I must disgree. She is horrified that the National Episcopal Church could try to take away the church she labored hard to build and nurture for more than 60 years because that national church had renounced her conservative beliefs. Ask someone who is actuallyl a founding member of another Episcopal church and see if they concur with your opinion if indeed your parish is too old to still have any founders alive.

      1. Bob Griffith says:

        But Claire, again, the founding members knew what kind of Church they were joining and working within, or at least they should have. The Episcopal Church – the parishes of the Diocese of South Carolina wither the TEC group or the break-away group – were established not as congregational churches, but as parishes of the Episcopal Church. I realize clearly that this is very emotional for all sides, but one wrong move doesn’t cancel out or justify another wrong move. If Bishop Lawrence establishes a new parish church under this new canons and the hierarchy of his new organization, then they certainly are not part of the Episcopal Church and TEC has no claim to them. But before the break-away, the already established parish churches were and are part of TEC. Again, unless Bishop Lawrence’s new polity is/will be congregational, I’m sure that the parishes under him and his new organization would not be allowed to just pick up, reject his authority, and leave, either.

  7. Grant Carson says:

    The dispute isn’t really about property, but about power. This is TEC vs ACNA. TEC sees ACNA as a threat, which I think is true.

  8. Ronald Caldwell says:

    Grant, thanks for bringing up the question of what this fight is about.

    What is this dispute all about? In the big picture, it is part of the modern American culture war. For the past 50 years, TEC as a national body has promoted the side of human rights, first for African-Americans, then for women, and finally for LGBT while along the way revising the prayer book and hymnal to be more inclusive. Conservsatives argued that religion should be all about personal salvation, one person and one God, a vertical relationship rather than the horizontal one followed by TEC. They objected to the social agenda.

    Conservatives have been peeling off TEC for 50 years. However, many of them were able to stand the reforms for blacks and women but drew the line when it came to accepting homosexuality. Gene Robinson was the tipping point for them. Soon thereafter four dioceses voted to secede. For Mark Lawrence, a long-time leader in the opposition to Robinson, the last straw was the acceptance of transgendered clergy and the blessing of same-gender unions. He and the conservative leadership of South Carolina had had enough of TEC and dclared their independence.

    Conservatives who have splintered off TEC have declared it hopelessly fallen under godless and immoral secular humanism. They, and most notably the ACNA, aim to replace TEC as the official arm of the Anglican Communion in the U.S. They have the support of the Third World Anglicans.

    The Episcopal Church is fighting for its life. Its structure is at stake. For TEC the issue is sovereignty. The Constitution and Canons of TEC hold that sovereignty rests in the national entity. The five breakaway dioceses all claimed that they were sovereign. If any one of them prevails, the principle of states’ rights, or local sovereignty, will win and TEC as we know it will collapse. Eleven other solidly conservative dioceses and who knows how many local churches are waiting in the wings for departure.

    Ownership of property is also an important issue, but not the fundamental one. In 1979, TEC incorporated the Dennis Canon that says all property is held in trust for the Episcopal diocese and Church. The only case finally settled in the US where this canon was overturned was in South Carolina: All Saints Waccamaw (Pawleys Island), Ironically the Lawrence side is now counting on this ruling as their fire wall to save them from the Dennis Canon.

    So both sides have gone to court, Lawrence to state court and vonRosenberg to federal court to get the secular state to decide who is the legitimate Episcopal bishop and who is the illegitimate. In my view the stakes could not be higher. Lawrence believes he is on a mission from God to save American Anglicanism. TEC is fighting for its survival.

  9. Anthony Christiansem says:

    TEC is in no way fighting for its survival. It’s numbers have not decreased any more than any other mainline Protestant denominations, while it is fortunately the case that the demographics have changed; those who have joined are by and large those who believe God’s revelation to be moving in the direction of greater and greater inclusion, while those who have left appear to be those who believe more in social convention than in genuinely unfolding tradition.

    It is true that this is not fundamentally a property issue; at its core it is a gospel issue.

    1. Grant Carson says:

      This is no longer George Washington’s Episcopal Church – in 1776 the largest denomination in the rebellious British colonies. Membership has dropped so dramatically that today there are 20 times more Baptists than Episcopalians.

      U.S. Catholics out-number the Episcopal Church 33-to-1. There are more Jews than Episcopalians. Twice as many Mormons as Episcopalians. Even the little African Methodist Episcopal denomination — founded in in 1787 — has passed the Episcopalians.

      Among the old mainstream denominations reporting to the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church suffered the worst loss of membership from 1992-2002 — plunging from 3.4 million members to 2.3 million for a 32 percent loss. In the NCC’s 2012 yearbook, the Episcopal Church admitted another 2.71 percent annual membership loss.


    2. Janet Echols says:

      Anthony Really , you must be kidding. TEC is in a sad state of affairs and we need to come to terms with it.

  10. I wonder if Bp. Lawrence and his supporters would apply the same principles in Zimbabwe and Manicaland where deposed bishops tried to take church property with them when they were no longer willing to be obedient to the Anglican churches of which they were once part? Should the ongoing Anglicans have abandoned their church properties or defended them all the way to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe where the schismatics lost and were required to return all church property?

    1. Danny L Anderson Jr says:

      I think you tell the truth Good Father . This go all the way to the Supreme and they will rule in favor of TEC . What will the Lawrenceiets do then ???

  11. Bonnie Leazer says:

    You Lawrence followers keep trying to meddle in the affairs of TEC even though you have left it. What’s the deal here? Why aren’t you moving on, going about your business of recruiting Anglicans (albeit faux) for a global age? I think this split in this Diocese long term is a good thing. A house divided against itself cannot stand. We Episcopalians can now focus on articulating our message of Christ’s love, mercy and inclusion — unencumbered bv negative forces from within.

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