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    Amicus Curiae Scam
November 25, 2017
Questions Surround Brief Supporting Breakaways at S.C. Supreme Court

Not all 106 "religious leaders" aware they signed controversial submission

Religious leader #1:  “I am not sure how I have been included in this. I have no issues with the Episcopal Church in any way. Thank you for bringing this to my attention and I will get to the bottom of this.

Religious leader #2:   “I don't know where or who you received your information from, but that is not true, I have not joined in any attack or lawsuit.”

A few weeks before the state Supreme Court washed its hands of the breakaways’ lawsuit last week, an odd amicus curiae brief from 106 “religious leaders” was submitted to the justices in support of a motion for rehearing by former Bishop Mark Lawrence and 29 parishes loyal to him.

The “leaders” urged the Court to rehear the appeal of a 2015 lower court ruling in Lawrence's favor, in which an estimated $500 million in Church property and assets was taken from the Episcopal Church and 7,000 Loyal Episcopalians and given to Lawrence and his supporters. 

They made the argument that  the Court's August 2nd ruling in the case did not properly apply the legal concept of neutral principles of law, and that such a misunderstanding would possibly create some kind of jeopardy for their congregations.

SC Episcopalians
would not have paid much attention to this except that the breakaways' public relations team seemed a bit to well-prepared to trumpet this happy news from such an unexpected source.

Nearly instantly, pro-Lawrence news releases heralded the seemingly unanticipated intervention by a “diverse group of 106 South Carolina religious leaders, representing 52 cities and … Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian, United Methodist, REC, Nazarene, Holiness and non-denominational churches” were sent out across the state. 

However, none of them explained how this group of “leaders” just came together spontaneously and decided that the state’s Supreme Court justices were endangering their “religious freedom."

The Amici

We are not lawyers so we checked several sources for a definition of an amicus brief, also known as a Friend of the Court brief. 

Generally, it would be filed by an independent person or persons who believe they may be directly impacted by issues raised in the case, but are not themselves parties to the case

They are “friends” (amici) to the judge or judges in the sense of being impartial assisters, without ties to any of the parties in a case.  They are not friends to plaintiffs or defendants.  Their role is to share some unique expertise with the Court and provide insight into complex issues.  “Friends” and their participation in a case cannot have been solicited by or paid for by any of the parties associated with the case.

Who are these “religious leaders”?

As we looked deeper at the list of amici, we noticed that, other than their names and that of a congregation or organization with which they are associated, there was no mention of  hometowns, addresses, email or any other contact information.  None appeared to represent any cities, much less 52 of them.

As we googled the religious organizations listed, we found none that would likely be affected directly by any of the key issues in the case.  Many were Baptists and others were independent evangelicals with their own ministry brands, websites, and video ministries. 

Many were not listed in leadership positions on their congregation websites.

Among those was a music and praise leader, and others were lay people employed in secular jobs.  Some had many years of post-graduate theological education, while others appeared to be self-taught. 

How they were considered “religious leaders” and felt the breakaway lawsuit is relevant to their places of worship is not spelled out in the brief.

However, one of the amici was actually the rector of one of the breakaway parishes and a plaintiff in the case – hardly an independent, non-partisan “religious leader”.  

It also seemed particularly odd that these "religious leaders" would have had the funds and contacts to find a top-drawer legal firm in Washington DC and an expert witness in California to write a sophisticated treatise on the arcane subject of neutral principles of law. 

We tried to contact the “leaders”

With that, we tried reaching out to some of the 106 amici.  The first two that responded had no idea their names were even on a brief at the Supreme CourtMost did not respond at all

One of the more prominent signers was Gary Hollingsworth, Executive Director of the SC Baptist Convention, who argued that: “One of the founding principles of our nation has been religious freedom and any threat to that freedom is an affront to every other freedom.  We stand with our Anglican brethren in that same spirit.

Hollingsworth’s statement is a little confusing.  Lawrence’s legal team, at least in the courtroom and in its filings with the courts, maintains that the case is not about “religious freedom ... and every other freedom.”  Over the past five years they repeatedly argued that their case is purely about property ownership and corporate control.

Hollingsworth also doesn’t appear to understand that Anglicans and Episcopalians are the same people, nor does he seem to be aware that Lawrence and his brethren are not recognized as “Anglican” by the Anglican Communion.  

Only the Episcopal Church is considered the official and legitimate expression of Anglicanism in the United States.

We contacted the South Carolina Baptist Convention to determine if Hollingsworth was representing the entire organization in signing onto the amicus brief.  No response after one week. 

Palmetto Family Council

As nearly as we can tell the brief was generated by a controversial political/religious group known variously as the Palmetto Family Council and the Palmetto Family Alliance.   

Lawrence met with the group for an “extended” period just eight days before the filling of the brief, which obviously raises questions about the independence and legitimacy of these “friends.”

According to the IRS, the Council’s mission is the “Dissemination of publications for the purpose of education and helping individuals to become better citizens and to strengthen family relationships.” 

On its tax forms the group says it does not participate in political activities ... so it may have been embarrassed last year when it was disclosed that the group received funding from Donald Trump

The group has published on its website Lawrence's imaginative history of the schism, including that “the denomination … voted by 80% margins to leave [the Episcopal Church] in 2012” and that Lawrence has 23,000 followers in his parishes, which is substantially at odds with the 13,000 documented by his own ‘diocese.

Those misstatements plus the accusation by Lawrence that the Episcopal Church is about to throw his followers out of their churches are completely at odds with reality, but sounded good enough to be replicated on the Council’s website in the amicus brief.

The brief was written by a conservative former Federal Circuit Judge at Stanford University Law School, along with two attorneys with the law firm, Winston & Strawn in Washington, DC. 

We tried to contact all three by email to get some answers to these questions – including who was paying them – but they did not respond.

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