For nearly nine months, Episcopalians in eastern South Carolina have been barred by a temporary injunction from using the official name of their diocese. Now they are asking a judge to lift the injunction, saying that the local diocese recognized by The Episcopal Church is the rightful owner of the name “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”
A motion to vacate the injunction was filed with the Circuit Court on September 30, along with a second motion asking the court to issue an injunction against the group that has separated from The Episcopal Church, ordering them to stop using the diocesan name and marks. The motions were filed by attorneys for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), which is the “working name” that the diocese adopted to comply with the court’s order.
A hearing is scheduled before Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein on Friday, October 11.
Judge Goodstein issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on January 23 at the Dorchester County Courthouse in St. George, at the request of the breakaway group. That group filed suit on January 4 against The Episcopal Church – the international church body with headquarters in New York – seeking control of the name, property and assets of the diocese.
The TRO hearing was held “ex parte” – officials with The Episcopal Church were not notified or given an opportunity to present their case. Several days later, attorneys for both TEC and the breakaway group consented to let the order remain in place for the time being, in the form of a temporary injunction. The agreement was to allow for more time to prepare arguments on the entire case, according to Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of TECSC.
According to the motions filed by TECSC this week, “The ex parte TRO upon which the current injunction is based was improperly granted.” Also, the motion notes, TECSC was not a party in the case when the temporary injunction was issued, and never consented to it. TECSC was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit until March.
The timing of the TRO came just three days before a special diocesan convention on January 26 to reorganize the diocese. The special convention was made necessary by the departure of Bishop Mark Lawrence, who announced in October that he and other diocesan leaders had “disaffiliated” from The Episcopal Church. Left without a bishop, the special convention elected and installed the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg on January 26. He now serves as the bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in eastern South Carolina.
If TECSC’s motion for a temporary injunction is granted, TECSC would have exclusive authority to use the name and marks of “The Diocese of South Carolina” and “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”
In other developments in the state lawsuit, Judge Goodstein has ruled against a motion by TECSC to add additional counterclaim defendants to the case. TECSC filed to have 23 members of the leadership of the breakaway group – the Standing Committee and the Trustees – joined to the lawsuit. Judge Goodstein’s order said adding the additional defendants is not necessary, and that the individuals are immune from being sued under state law.
“We disagree with the judge’s conclusion and we are considering various options for how to respond to it,” Mr. Tisdale said.