Episcopal Church in SC removes state lawsuit to US District Court

[Episcopal Church in South Carolina — Press Release] The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has filed to remove the state lawsuit filed against it to the U.S. District Court, citing statutory and constitutional issues that need to be addressed by the federal court. The Episcopal Church is also a defendant in the suit and has consented to the removal to the federal court.

The suit, originally filed in South Carolina Circuit Court in Dorchester County by a group that is breaking away from The Episcopal Church, now moves entirely  to the federal court system, according to Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, which is remaining part of The Episcopal Church.

“We have carefully examined the claims made against The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and inherent in all these claims are federal statutory and constitutional issues that must be decided in a federal court rather than in South Carolina state court,” Mr. Tisdale said.

The plaintiffs, who include a group representing itself as “the Diocese of South Carolina” along with 35 parishes, now have 30 days to respond to the notice of removal. They could seek to have the case remanded to state court, and a federal judge would then have to decide where the case will be heard.

“The federal court, we believe, is the appropriate forum for all the issues involved in these matters to be decided,” Mr. Tisdale said.

The breakaway group filed the state suit January 4 seeking control of diocesan and parish property as well as the name, seal and other marks of the Diocese of South Carolina. On January 23, at a hearing held without notice to Episcopal Church leaders , Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein issued a temporary restraining order that barred anyone other than the breakaway group  from using the diocese’s official names. To comply with a similar consent order issued thereafter, the local Episcopal Church diocese has been using a working name, “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.”

Mr. Tisdale said that the case involves issues of trademarks, names, false advertising and other matters that are governed by the federal trademark law known as the Lanham Act.  It also raises broader issues under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution governing free exercise of religion.

Other legal action

Meanwhile, in a separate case already before the U.S. District Court, the attorneys for the breakaway group filed a motion on Thursday, March 28 asking the court to either dismiss the case or issue a stay that would put the federal complaint on hold until the state courts can rule on their Circuit Court suit.

Their motion involves a federal lawsuit filed March 5 against Mark Lawrence by the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg, who is recognized by The Episcopal Church as the bishop of the diocese. Bishop Lawrence announced in October that he and the diocese were “disaffiliating” from The Episcopal Church.  In December, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, announced that Lawrence had renounced his orders and was removed from the ordained ministry of the Church. Local Episcopalians elected vonRosenberg as their bishop at a special convention held January 26.

The federal suit asks the court to stop Bishop Lawrence from continuing to hold himself out as bishop of the diocese, saying his actions violate the Lanham Act, confusing and misleading worshipers and donors and harming the reputation of the diocese.


  1. Robert Markham says:

    “Mr. Tisdale said that the case involves issues of trademarks, names, false advertising and other matters that are governed by the federal trademark law known as the Lanham Act. It also raises broader issues under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution governing free exercise of religion.”

    Code for “we know we are toast and have no case under SC state law so let’s find another court that might be more favorable”

    Also code for “let’s find a way to make this as expensive as possible for the other side so they just give up because we know we don’t have a case”

    My prayers to KJS, Bishop Von Rosenberg and Mr. Tisdale that God would have mercy on them for persecuting the faithful, and that they would be shown the error of their ways before they squander millions of dollars on this endeavor.

    • Zachary Brooks says:

      As I’ve already said on this issue, one would expect the thief to feel persecuted when the owner of the house calls the cops on him.

  2. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    The slug-fest heats up. Now both sides are in the thick of it and desperate to fight on their preferred turf. Lawrence came out swinging first in a stunning law suit on Jan. 4 claiming legitimacy and property long before the ongoing diocese could even get up on its feet. That is called a preemptive strike. Lawrence pounded again with a Temporary Restraining Order and turned that into a Temporary Injunction. It was inmgenious work. TEC was on the ropes. Once vonRosenberg took office, however, he caught his breath and came out swinging. He hit a one two punch: Mar. 5 a law suit in the United States District Court claiming legitimacy and a Mar. 7 massive (276 pages) appeal for an injunction against Lawrence. Surprisingly, Lawrence reeled and did not get a Contempt of Court citation against vonR for using the titles he had been forbidden to use under the Temporary Injunction from the state court. Then, on Maundy Thursday (Mar. 28) the two boxers traded hard jabs: vonR entered “Answer, Affirmative Defenses, and Counterclaims” in response to Lawrence’s suit in Circuit Court, and Lawrence entered “Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative to Abstain or Stay Proceedings,” and “”Defendant Lawrence’s Memorandum…”in answer to vonR’s suit in the federal court. Now, only a few days later, vonR has landed another hard jab as he filed on Aprill 3 in U.S. Court to move the proceedings in the state Circuit Court to the U.S. Court. Lawrence has 30 days to get back up on his feet and respond.

    Everyone expects that the turf will decide the winner. The state court is likely to favor Lawrence and the feds vonR. If Lawrence cannot keep this out of the U.S. court, he will have lost the bout.

  3. Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry says:

    If there were no monies and properties how desperately would this national body, that has acquired unto itself an authority that traditionally in the ECUSA has never heretofore granted to it and one which is far more similar to a Roman Imperial Curia than an Anglican episcopacy, fight with such determination! I have a feeling if those who have left TEC did not represent monies and properties that are as valuable as those in South Carolina your Presiding Bishop would not utter so much as a “by your leave” but would rather grind on about the gift of diversity of opinion, belief, and practice in Episcopal Church!
    No I am not Episcopalian or Anglican. Just an outside observer looking at this donnybrook and the P R disaster it is for TEC and for many more than adequate proof of how irrelevant Christianity which they see as a multimillion dollar business is in the 21st century!

    • With all due respect, Bishop, since you suggest that the ‘Real’ Episcopal Church under the leadership of Bishop von Rosenberg is only litigating to RETAIN significant assets, it is logical (presuming you have a concept of Christian ethics) that you would be led also to suggest the breakaway group, under the leadership of Lawrence, is only litigating to ACQUIRE significant assets.

      • Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry says:

        Respectfully, Robert your logic is faulty, at least from the perspective of Bishop Lawrence and those who have chosen to continue to recognize his episcopal leadership, in that he nor they are not litigating to “acquire” but to retain. From what several Episcopal friends of mine have told me ,and these friends remain in TEC ,the American Episcopal tradition and practice has, up until only in the last several decades always been that the diocese not some curial national authority was the final word on matters of polity. As far as the General Convention it was again until recently only an advisory body not an inquisitorial bureaucracy!
        I would by no means be welcome in the diocese that has Bishop Lawrence as its chief pastor as I am a proud Christian Democratic Socialists and supporter of quality and inclusion nor would I be welcomed in Bishop Sheri’s church as I am an unapologetic Traditionalist when it comes to essentials of a Catholic understanding of faith, and unlike her, I believe in the Historic Creeds and the Incarnation not in some comfortable politically correct pluralism!

    • Alecia Moroz says:

      You are correct that many see these fights as “adequate proof of how irrelevant Christianity…is in the 21st century.” It breaks my heart to think WE are contributing to anyone’s alienation from the church – or worse, God – by our example. However, it is not just TEC that is fighting to hold onto properties and resources.

      The breakaway churches made the decision to leave. TEC would have preferred they stayed in communion and continued dialogue. They could have walked away from the properties in question. Doing so would have ensured a peaceful transition for all involved. Instead, some of the breakaway congregations (and SC, in particular) have been pointedly vitriolic in their handling of the separation.

      All of us, including those posting comments on these stories, would do well to remember the Buddhist saying “In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.” I pray we can instead strive for God’s kingdom come by seeking out and honoring the divine in each other.

    • Scott Elliott says:

      Bishop, when someone takes something from you, you are free to let them have it, or to fight them for it. But when someone takes something you are holding in trust for another, you are duty-bound and honor-bound to defend it.

      Lawrence and his cronies are attempting to take property which the Episcopal Church has been given by previous generations of Episcopalians to hold in trust for future generations of Episcopalians, and we are obligated by that trust.

      • Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry says:

        I would most respectfully suggest that “the trust” is far more than properties and further I think it is reasonable to suggest that those who have “gone on” would perhaps feel that the current deists pluralism which has replaced what the Episcopal Church once held as “the core doctrine of the church” is a betrayal of that trust in the first place. I honestly do not think these blessed souls would even recognize the Episcopal Church today.

        • Zachary Brooks says:

          In that case, you’ll be happy to know that orthodoxy has not been replaced by “deist pluralism” in the Episcopal Church. Outside of the imaginations of paranoid schismatics, the worship of the Episcopal Church actually remains the sober, Christian affair is ever has.

          • Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry says:

            Perhaps Mr Brooks you might mention this to your Presiding Bishop who sees Jesus as only “our vehicle”, that is , a culturally defined vehicle,as opposed to the Revelation of and or Incarnation of the Divine. For her and apparently most of the leadership of TEC ,Mohammed, Buddha, Zoroaster , are all equally possessing of “god consciousness” and last time I checked that is deist pluralism not Christian Orthodoxy!

          • Zachary Brooks says:

            Well, it’s enough for me to defend what the leadership of TEC actually does and says. I have nothing to say about the accusations her enemies imagine in their hateful minds.

      • “Lawrence and his cronies are attempting to take property which the Episcopal Church has been given by previous generations of Episcopalians to hold in trust for future generations of Episcopalians, and we are obligated by that trust,” is pretty much a complete crock.

        Ever heard of Church of the Good Shepherd, Binghamton, New York? The traditionalist congregation there attempted to leave the Diocese of Central New York but keep their building, lost in court and moved on. Whereupon the Diocese sold the building for LESS than the original congregation was willing to pay for it. Know who the Diocese sold the building to?


      • Dr. Chris Waters says:

        Sorry but the Diocese of South Carolina is not seeking anything except to leave with the property they have built and maintained for centuries. They are seeking nothing else but to worship in those churches and worship in the tradition that has served them for centuries and not what serves the culture. I have seen what the national church has done in other places like Binghamton, NY and if they want to hold other property in trust that same way then why sell the property to Islamic groups or to the “highest bidder?” FYI…the Diocese of SC is not suing TEC and Bp vonRosenberg for anything but religious freedom and to worship and maintain the churches where the MAJORITY (by a huge margin) have said they want to worship. But, the National church is literally suing parishioners for damages including punitive damages…shame on them.

        • Zachary Brooks says:

          What they want is to continue to worship in the churches of the Episcopal Church without remaining Episcopalians. The “freedom of worship” line is utter malarky pedaled by a bishop who feels that he is above the discipline of the Episcopal Church. In reality, there has never been any dream of attacking their life of worship.

          The Episcopal Church owes his followers prayers and well wishes, but it doesn’t owe them free churches. The Episcopal Church must not fund schism. If they wanted to take their churches with them, they should have been congregationalists.

          • Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry says:

            Firstly they paid for those churches and secondly the Presiding Bishop and her colleagues are responsible for the comments she has made. These are not imaginary polemics of dissenters but her own words.

  4. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    On April 10, Bishop Lawrence submitted his reply to the federal court. His arguments favoring state jurisdiction over federal are ones to be expected. You can find this at the website of Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Perhaps the biggest news in Lawrence’s papers is in the footnote on page 18. We now know that Lawrence filed a motion in the circuit (state) court for Contempt of Court against vonRosenberg for using the official terms of the diocese that he had been enjoined (Temporary Injunction) not to use. No date is given for the motion but it must have been in March. No result is mentioned. Obviously Judge Goodstein did not grant the motion as vonR has not been charged in contempt of court. Apparently Goodstein is awaiting the federal judge’s pending decision on jurisdiction. Therefore, the next event on the legal scene will be the U.S. Court decision on whether to place the whole matter in federal or state court. We are all eagerly awaiting that decision.

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