[Episcopal News Service] A South Carolina Circuit Court judge Jan. 23 issued a temporary restraining order preventing any “individual, organization, association or entity” from using registered names and marks that are claimed by Mark Lawrence and other leaders who led some Episcopalians in that state out of the Episcopal Church.
Judge Diane S. Goodstein’s order is in effect until Feb. 1 when a hearing is scheduled.
The order says Lawrence and 24 other people associated with him are the only ones who may use the diocesan seal as described in its registration with South Carolina Secretary of State as well as the names “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,” “The Diocese of South Carolina” and “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.” Those three titles were registered on Nov. 5, 2010, according to the order.
The temporary restraining order is related to the suit that was filed in state circuit court Jan. 4. The action, the original plaintiffs said in a press release at the time, was taken “to protect the diocese’s real and personal property and that of its parishes.”
The suit also asked the court to prevent the Episcopal Church from “infringing on the protected marks of the diocese, including its seal and its historical names, and to prevent the church from assuming the diocese’s identity, which was established long before the Episcopal Church’s creation,” according to the press release.
Goodstein’s Jan. 23 order made clear that the restraining order applies only to the names and seal, and not the other matters alleged in the suit. The judge said in the order that a hearing was needed because the group of people who opposed Lawrence’s departure from the Episcopal Church has “allegedly and repeatedly” been using the names and the diocesan seal, “including those so similar that they are perceived to be the Diocese of South Carolina.”
“This use has the clear ability to cause extraordinary confusion over the corporate identity of The Diocese of South Carolina,” she wrote.
The judge noted that the plaintiffs are concerned that a group of people who want to remain in the Episcopal Church plan to hold a meeting Jan. 26 at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston. That gathering “could intentionally affect the corporate status of those uninformed that the actors are not, in reality, the corporation” known as the Diocese of South Carolina.
That meeting is meant, according to a notice issued Dec. 13 by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, to elect and install a provisional bishop and other lay and clergy leaders, consider resolutions dealing with “recent purported amendments to the Constitution and canons of the diocese” and any other matters “that may be properly brought” to the meeting.
Retired Diocese of East Tennessee Bishop Charles vonRosenberg is expected to be nominated as the provisional bishop during the Jan. 26 meeting.
It is anticipated that the group meeting that day may choose a temporary name under which to conduct its business and operate at least during the time until the Feb. 1 hearing.
A Jan. 23 press release about the restraining order said that 44 of the 71 congregations involved have joined the suit while 16 have remained with the Episcopal Church and 11 are undecided.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.