South Carolina Episcopalians
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   Rehearing Denied

November 19, 2017
Bishops Adams and Lawrence React to Supreme Court's Refusal to Re-Hear Lawrence Lawsuit

Bishop Adams' response
Bishop Lawrence's response

November 18, 2017
Schism Derailed as Supreme Court Rejects Breakaways' Motion for Rehearing

Former Chief Justice lashes out at Lawrence's legal team for its "unreasonably harsh criticism" of Justice Hearn, blames them for bungling recusal request

Hearn will not participate in similar cases in the future, as Court dismisses Lawrencian demands that her vote and opinion be vacated

Parishes on both sides of a five-year-old lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina were stunned today as the state Supreme Court said it would not re-hear the appeal of a 2015 lower court decision awarding ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him an estimated $500 million in Church assets, including its historic "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."

The parties in the case were notified by mail today that the breakaways' request to the Court for a rehearing had failed on a 2-2 vote, leaving its decision of August 2nd intact.  In that ruling the Court said that 29 congregations seeking to leave the Church with their properties can not do so without the Church's consent.

The justices also said that they would not retroactively remove Justice Kaye Hearn or nullify her vote in the case, as the breakaways had requested in a second motion.  The breakaways did not challenge Hearn's participation in the case for two-and-a-half years until after it was decided and they found out how she voted.  

Hearn is an Episcopalian.  She did not vote on motion for a rehearing.

Former Chief Justice Jean Toal, who supported a rehearing,  slammed the breakaways' legal team for their post-ruling attacks on Hearn as an "unreasonably harsh criticism of a highly accomplished judge and a person of great decency and integrity."

Read comments of Justices Kittridge and Toal here

Reaction from breakaways'

Mark Lawrence has not made any public statement yet, but his long-time lieutenant, Jim Lewis, responded with an attack on the impartiality of the Court and hinted that the breakaways might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Even with Hearn recusing herself from voting on the rehearing motion, it still failed to garner a majority.

"Given the gravity of all these concerns, we will now give serious consideration to seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court. We believe the number and character of the issues at stake in this ruling merit review by the high court. Because of the long road of litigation that has brought us to this day, all the parties to this case will need to take counsel together before deciding our next steps," he said.

Winning the case in the nation's highest court would be a monumental task. 

One of the few issues on which the justices have been unanimous in recent years has been First Amendment protections for "hierarchical" denominations like the Episcopal Church.  When legal disputes involve doctrine or theology, the Court has historically deferred to the position of the governing bodies of the Church.

The decision by the state's high court is in line with those of 14 other states that have decided other breakaway cases.  The last breakaway group to appeal to the high court was one in Virginia.  In that case, the high court refused to even hear the case and let the pro-Church ruling in that state stand.

Bishop Adams facing an extraordinary task

The Right Rev. Gladstone "Skip" Adams, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, is now increasingly the focus of attention as all parishes consider their future ministries.  Adams has urged both loyal and dissident Episcopalians to seek reconciliation and unity, and repeatedly said that he has no plans to evict pro-Lawrence congregations from their parish buildings.

Ironically, Bishop Adams spent today in Pawleys Island, ordaining and celebrating the new ministry of the Rev. Jason Robeson, now assistant rector at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church.  Pawleys Island was the site of the first challenge to the Church in South Carolina by a breakaway parish more nearly 15 years ago. 

Today's decision by the Court effectively ends any realistic hope of the Lawrence schism finding any support in the state's judicial system.  Ironically, it was decided exactly five years to the day that a convention of pro-Lawrence parishes voted to try to leave the Episcopal Church with him.

Read the state Supreme Court's order here

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