CHARLESTON – A motion filed today 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.