CHARLESTON – Judge C. Weston Houck of the U.S. District Court remanded the case over South Carolina’s ongoing Episcopal split back to a state court on Monday, saying that any First Amendment issues involved were not enough reason to try the case in federal court.
“If this Court determined that a case may be removed based on federal question jurisdiction whenever a defendant attributed a federal constitutional issue not alleged or advanced in a well-pleaded complaint, federal question jurisdiction could potentially be expanded to all cases containing tacit First Amendment issues,” Houck said.
The decision could be good news for the Diocese of South Carolina, the breakaway group that originally filed the suit in state court.
The Diocese disassociated from the Episcopal Church after the denomination attempted to remove Bishop Mark Lawrence. Following the Diocese’s decision, 49 churches representing 80 percent of the Diocese’s 30,000 members have confirmed their disassociation from The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
TECinSC had asked to have the case moved to federal court citing First Amendment issues raised in the case.
The case over who will have rights to the original diocese’s name, seal and property will now be heard in Judge Diane S. Goodstein’s circuit court in Dorchester County. Houck’s order cannot be appealed.
Jim Lewis, Canon to Diocese Bishop Mark Lawrence, said the Diocese is very pleased with the decision since the “issues involved are essentially those of legal identity and are wholly determined by state law, so the most appropriate place to settle is clearly in state court, where we first took the matter.”
Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of TECinSC said the group is disappointed with the result, but “we are confident in our legal position going forward.”
A separate federal lawsuit, filed by Bishop Charles G. von Rosenberg, who heads TECinSC, is still before Judge Houck. That suit asks the court to find that only Bishop von Rosenberg, as The Episcopal Church’s recognized bishop, should control the name and marks of the diocese.