ECSC'S LAWYERS DEVASTATE GOODSTEIN'S DECISION
ECSC'S LAWYERS DEVASTATE GOODSTEIN'S DECISION
Attorney Thomas Tisdale, chancellor of ECSC, and his co-lawyers have delivered a legal tour de force devastating Judge Diane Goodstein's Final Order of February 3, 2015. On February 13, they filed in Goodstein's state circuit court, in St. George, "Defendants' Notice and Motion for Reconsideration of Final Order" (hereafter called Order). It comes to a monumental 182 pages. It asks the judge to reconsider her order and to reverse it. This is probably a technical legal maneuver. Once she rejects the motion, as everyone expects she will, the way will be clear for an appeal of her decisions to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. This Notice and Motion (hereafter called Notice) of Feb. 13, then, sets the framework for ECSC's and TEC's appeal.
It seems to me the main points of the Notice are:
1-The basic issue is the bedrock American principle of the separation of church and state. The Notice shows that the Final Order clearly violates this principle.
2-The Final Order derives entirely from the standard called neutral principles. The Notice shows that the Order repeatedly exceeds this standard in clear violation of the Supreme Court decisions.
The Notice is divided into three parts:
Part 1: pages 2-54. A detailed refutation of the terms contained in the Order. It shows in withering detail the dubious and untrue nature of the so called "facts" in the Order and does so one-by-one. It is extremely detailed and extensive. It is most impressive in its scope and depth. Brilliant.
Part 2: pages 54-176. Discusses, again in minute detail, the issues that were not addressed in the Order. This very long section is actually taken up mostly by an in-depth analysis of each and every one of the 36 parishes that joined DSC in suing TEC and ECSC. The detail is effective and overwhelming.
Part 3: pages 176-180. Summary. The main points emphasized here were: TEC is without a doubt a hierarchical institution as evidenced by an extensive list of judicial decisions; DSC was subject to TEC and not independent; The corporate actions of DSC after 2010 were illegally self-created and in violation of the authority of TEC; The entire process of litigation in the (state) circuit court was heavily biased in favor of DSC and discriminatory against TEC and ECSC; The Order lacks any evidence to substantiate its findings.
There is a daunting amount of information in the Notice. Here are the parts that stood out to me:
1-On p. 176, TEC and ECSC demand the return of all properties of all the 36 individual parishes involved in the lawsuit. What this means is that, if a higher court agrees with this claim, all of the land, buildings, and other assets of the 36 parishes that have gone along with Mark Lawrence will be returned to the Episcopal Church diocese. The people in those congregations will then have to decide whether to leave and form separate churches elsewhere or to stay in the property and return to the Episcopal Church which will own and operate the properties.
2-The Order misunderstood and misinterpreted the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina. In fact, for years DSC explicitly adhered to the Constitution and Canons of TEC including the Dennis Canon. The Order assumed DSC was always an independent and sovereign entity without any obligation to TEC. The Order was replete with factual errors posing as facts.
3-The Dennis Canon did in fact create a trust in which local property came under the legal power of TEC and its diocese. DSC adopted the Dennis Canon. The argument that it did not create an explicit trust is dubious at best.
4-The corporate action of DSC after 2010 was illegal. DSC granted to itself unilateral rights to revoke commitments to TEC without any legal grounds to do so. DSC was subject to the C and C of TEC. DSC's self-made declaration of independence in October of 2012 was without any legal foundation and is therefore invalid.
It seems to me TEC's and ECSC's notice makes an irresistible case for the reversal of Goodstein's Final Order. The Order certainly went beyond the inviolable wall separating church and state. It is full of interference in a particular church. Too, the Order grossly violates the Supreme Court directive on neutral principles. The circuit court proceeding was anything but neutral. Time and again, the Order went straight to the heart of the internal working of a religious institution. That has been strictly forbidden by the Supreme Court.
I can only conclude that Goodstein's decision will be struck down by a higher court.
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has suffered through two years of injustice. Take heart long-suffering Episcopalians. Justice will prevail. Lawyers are at work. This country is still guided by the ingenious principles established by the founding fathers (many of whom were Episcopalians). The courts will eventually find that the Episcopal Church has every right to govern itself separate from the state.