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Diocese of South Carolina Press Release

Charleston, S.C. (June 11, 2018) -- Today the Diocese of South Carolina (Diocese) was informed that the United States Supreme Court denied its Petition for Writ of Certiorari. Doing so leaves in place a sharply divided ruling that could deprive at least 28 parish churches of their right to properties some have held for over 300 years.

The central issue the high court was asked to review was whether the same rules for determining property ownership applied to church property as in any secular case (neutral principles of law). Courts across the nation have been deeply divided on this issue. There was in this instance, the serendipity of a Minnesota case simultaneously petitioning the Court for review, with essentially identical facts but an opposite outcome in Minnesota. The Court has declined to review either case, leaving in place divisions only it can resolve.

The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis observed, "We are disappointed the Court chose not to resolve a serious division in the lower courts, though our case was a providential opportunity to do so. The essential issue of what the Court means by "neutral principles of law" will remain unresolved for now."

The Diocese of South Carolina will now return to our state courts, where the case has been remitted to the Dorchester Courthouse where it originated. An element of TEC's argument for the United States Supreme Court to deny our petition was the "fractured" nature of the South Carolina Supreme Court's ruling. Constitutional issues aside, the Diocese believes the conflicted nature of the current State Supreme Court ruling is virtually unenforceable as written. Interpretation and implementation of that ruling, given its five separate opinions, with no unified legal theory even among the plurality of the court, means there are still significant questions to resolve.

The Diocese remains confident that the law and the facts of this case favor our congregations. We plan to continue to press both to their logical conclusion, even if that requires a second appearance before the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Statement by the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, Diocesan Bishop: "While, obviously, we are disappointed that the Court did not review this case, our hope remains steadfast in our Heavenly Father. There are many unresolved legal questions which remain before the State Court as well as matters for prayerful discernment as we seek to carry out the mission to which we are called in Jesus Christ. We shall seek his guidance for both."

The Diocese also provided the following list of additional details:


A copy of our Petition to the United States Supreme Court and supporting amicus briefs can be found here:



The South Carolina Supreme Court's Current Ruling:

Judge Goodstein's Final Order from the Trial Court:

History of the Case and The Diocese of South Carolina:


US Supreme Court declines review of Episcopal property dispute from South Carolina

By Andrew Knapp
June 11, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review the property dispute between The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and a breakaway group.

After the Diocese of South Carolina split from the national church in 2012, its parishes sued for control of $500 million worth of properties from the Grand Strand to the Lowcountry.

Bishop Mark Lawrence's unaffiliated diocese won during a local trial, but South Carolina's high court ruled last year in the church's favor, giving the national body ownership of 29 of the 36 parishes that had agreed in writing decades earlier to an internal property rule.

The diocese appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that the South Carolina decision had run afoul of the First Amendment's religious protections.

But the justices' order Monday morning denied the petition, leaving in place the state ruling and clearing the way for the national church to retake the properties.

While some experts thought the court would take a case that poses the sort of church governance issues dividing congregations nationwide, Monday's rejection was not a surprise to many. The justices, who had discussed last week whether to take the case, typically listen to arguments in only about 100 of the 7,000 cases they are asked to hear every year.

The high court had refused to examine at least eight other Episcopal Church cases before the South Carolina one came along. Lawsuits involving similar disputes among other denominations have also been turned away.

With breakaway parishioners still worshiping in the same buildings they have called their church home for decades, questions about the practical effect of the courtroom decisions still must be answered. Officials from both sides of the dispute said it could take months for those issues to be ironed out.

A separate lawsuit awaiting trial in Charleston federal court pits Lawrence and Charles vonRosenberg, who was bishop of the diocese that remained affiliated with the national church at the time of the split. The various issues at dispute include the names that the groups should be allowed to use.

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