Wednesday, December 8, 2021




"HOW MANY BITES OF THE APPLE DO YOU GET?"



Justice Kittredge asked Alan Runyan the pertinent question of the day, "How man bites of the apple do you get?" The answer, of course, was as many as the courts would allow until he won. He won in the circuit court, lost in the supreme court, then won again in the circuit court and now, having secured his goal, is calling for the door to close. How convenient.

So, should the SC supreme court agree that the breakaways should have been allowed to keep on biting the apple until they had it all? In other words, should the SCSC decision of 2017 stand as final, or should the circuit court decision of 2020 stand? Sorry to say, on that question, we got nothing but confusion today. I am as baffled as anyone else on the meaning of today's hearing.

In the center of all this confusion was the most puzzling matter of all, Chief Justice Beatty's opinion. Today, Beatty said in 2017 he had agreed only on the disposition of the eight parishes that had not acceded to the Dennis Canon. He said he made no decision on the other churches and added there was "no majority for Hearn and Pleicones." Even more strangely, at the end of the hearing Beatty apologized for  the "confusion" surrounding the 2017 decision and blamed it all on the lawyers who had given him a "pared down" record that did not present enough information. I am still scratching my head.

Frankly, I have no idea what Beatty was talking about today. And so, I went back and re-read his part of the 2017 opinion. Here is what he wrote then about the parishes:

Yet, TEC argues that the parishes' accession to the Dennis Canon created the trust. Assuming that each parish acceded in writing I would agree. In my view, the Dennis Canon had no effect until acceded to in writing by the individual parishes.

Thus, in contrast to the majority, I would find the parishes that did not expressly accede to the Dennis Canon cannot be divested of their property. Because there was writing purporting to create a trust and they took no other legal action to transfer ownership of their property, I believe these parishes merely promised allegiance to the hierarchical national church. Without more, this promise cannot deprive them of their ownership rights in their property. However, I agree with the majority as to the disposition of the remaining parishes because their express accession to the Dennis Canon was sufficient to create an irrevocable trust.

THEIR EXPRESS ACCESSION TO THE DENNIS CANON WAS SUFFICIENT TO CREATE AN IRREVOCABLE TRUST.

It seems perfectly clear that in 2017 Beatty agreed the 29 had acceded to the Dennis Canon and he did join with Hearn and Pleicones to make a majority. So, I do not know what Beatty meant today when he said he made no decision on the 29 and did that Hearn and Pleicones did not have a majority. Something is amiss.

Does Beatty get to "revise" his opinion of 2017 today? I do not think so. As I told my students over the years, I have to grade you by what you have down on the test paper. You do not get to go back and change it later. The 2017 decision says what it says. It became the law of the land. It is fixed. We have to go by what is written in the 2017 decision.

Basically, the lawyers of the two sides argued alternately that the Dickson order should be vacated and affirmed. The Episcopal lawyer, Skip Utsey, said unsurprisingly that the 2017 SCSC decision was final and that the remittitur to the circuit court required implementation without alteration. The Anglican lawyer, Alan Runyan, argued that his side had been deprived of "due process" in the disposition of the parish and Camp properties which had not been argued in the circuit court in 2014. He held that the SCSC had no right to rule on the properties since it had not been part of the lower court trial. (The parish accessions were in fact part of the record that was presented to the SCSC in 2015 even though discussion of such had been omitted from argument in the circuit trial.) Therefore, Judge Dickson was right to consider the accessions in order to give due process on this issue. Dickson's order must be left to stand because it was based on the due process that had been denied in the supreme court. 

Accession to the Dennis Canon was the main point of discussion today with Justice Few going on and on about it musing on the absence or dubiousness of the evidence that the parishes in question had in fact acceded to the Canon. 

I, for one, could not see how the justices could take up the accession question again. The 2017 SCSC decision ruled by majority (4 of 5) that 29 parishes had acceded to the Dennis Canon. The 2020 Dickson decision ruled that no parish had acceded to the Dennis Canon. It has to be one or the other. There is no third way. Whether there was or was not accession has been decided. So, it boils down to whether the supreme court or the circuit court should have the last word. Only one of the five justices today, Kittredge, seemed clearly to defend the integrity of the supreme court decision. Few and James seemed to want to re-litigate the accession issue.

In my view, two justices leaned to upholding the 2017 SCSC decision today, Kittredge and Lockemy. Two seemed to lean to affirming Dickson, Few and James. 

If  there is a 2-2 split, Chief Justice Beatty will, once again, be the pivotal vote, as he was in 2017. As I said, following today's performance, I have no idea how to read Beatty. Although he bristled at any assertion that he had affirmed the accessions of the 29 parishes and had joined in a majority, he seemed ambivalent about Dickson. Early on, Beatty said, "I think the trial judge did exactly what we expected him to do." Later, he said the SCSC decision was remitted to the lower court, and not remanded. Remit would be implementation while remand would mean re-litigation of the issues. Dickson had acted as if the decision was remanded and not remitted. So, bottom line on Beatty, I am at a loss. I have no idea of where he is or where he is going in the impending written decision. This was the most disappointing aspect of today's hearing.

Is it possible that the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court would abandon a final decision of his own court in favor of a later contradictory circuit court decision? Surely he, and the other justices, realize the seriousness of such a thing. Allowing Dickson to stand in place of the SCSC decision will set a most dangerous precedent. No SCSC decision would ever be final. Any circuit court could "interpret" a SCSC decision at will. A circuit court could, in effect, veto any SCSC decision. I refuse to believe the five justices today cannot be thinking about these things. The whole integrity of their court is on the line. 

After nearly nine years of litigation, one longs for finality and closure. We did not get that today, and, given the tenor of the day, I am not at all sure we will have it in the near future. We did not even get clarity today. The creek is muddier than ever. On that, I am as disappointed as anyone about today's hearing.    

 





THE HEARING HAS ENDED



The hearing has ended. It lasted longer than expected, about an hour and a half. Here are my initial thoughts.


Apologies. I reported on this blog that the public would not be allowed in the courtroom. There were in fact some ten people in the room today. I do not know who they were or why they were there. I apologize to all  my readers about my false information I presented. I called the Clerk's office on two different occasions and asked about the public's attendance. I was told flatly on both occasions that the public would not be allowed in the room. Obviously that was not correct. I should not have passed on that information and I am sorry for doing it.


James Lockemy is the Acting Justice. He is the Chief Judge of the SC Court of Appeals. He seemed to me to be knowledgeable about the case and comfortable with the Church's position.


I was dismayed by Chief Justice Beatty's comments. I will have to listen to all he said again, but it seemed to me as if he wanted to back away from his participation in the majority decisions of 2017. 


Justice Few talked the most and seemed bothered by the accession question. He seemed to want more factual findings about each parish's accession. I just wonder how such a thing could be done at this point.


Justice Kittredge did not talk much but seemed satisfied with the 2017 decision. At one point the asked Runyan, "How many bites of the apple do you get?" Indeed.


I am going to re-listen to the hearing and try to make more sense of it. At this point, nothing is clear. I do not know how to read any conclusion into today's hearing.

Just off the top of my head, it seemed that Kittredge and Lockemy were satisfied that the 2017 was final. Few, mostly, and James to a lesser degree, were bothered by the 2017 decision. Once again, as in 2017, Beatty is an unknown. In 2017 he wound up siding with the Episcopal side but he sounded today if he were not sure that was the right side. So, who knows how Beatty will move now?




THE ACTING JUSTICE IS

A RENAISSANCE MAN



The Honorable James E. Lockemy, Chief Judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals, is the Acting Justice in the church case taking the place of recused SC Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn. As such, he is one of the five justices participating in the hearing of today, December 8, 2021. It is impossible to imagine a better choice for AJ in this matter.

Lockemy has had a long and highly distinguished career in the law and the state courts of South Carolina. Born on September 23, 1949, he is now 72 years old. According to my information, he must retire as an Appeals Court judge by the end of this year. 

His life story is one fit for a Hollywood movie, the poor boy who made it big. He was born in the Newtown area of Dillon County SC where his parents owned a mom-and-pop store, Lockemy's Grocery. Throughout all the years he both kept to his roots and excelled far above them. According to the blurb on the SC Court of Appeals website he has been:  bagboy, newspaper boy, Captain in the U.S. Army, Colonel in the National Guard, member of the SC state legislature, youth baseball coach, actor in a community theater, lawyer in a local firm, circuit judge, judge on the SC Court of Appeals, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, Kiwanian, and adjunct professor of the USC law school. Yet through it all he has remained a son of Dillon County. What a résumé!

In education, he is a man after my own heart: B.A. in History from University of North Carolina, Pembroke; law degree USC; M.A. in History from the Citadel; and presently working on a Ph.D. in History [at age 72!], at USC. Who could not be impressed?

For more insight into his remarkable personal life, see this article from Dillon. The author points out Lockemy is a Native American. The ABA website says he is the first Native American to serve as Chief Judge of the SC Court of Appeals.

Thus, among the five justices in the hearing, one is an African American man, one is a Native American man, and three are white men. What is wrong with this picture? What about the 51% of the population not represented on the court today? The only woman on the SC Supreme Court now was ruthlessly hounded off the case by certain partisan elements in the state. Courts, as juries, should reflect the people of the community they serve. Nevertheless, we have what we have. 

As far as the church case goes, the only hint we have of Lockemy's attitude about it comes from a summary of the 2017 SCSC decision he wrote (page 72 of 89) in 2018 for the state bar annual report. At the end he stated:

While all individuals are guaranteed the freedom of disassociation from a religious body, here the question of the disposition of ecclesiastical property following the disaffiliation from the [Appellants] is a question of church governance, which is protected from civil court interference by the First Amendment. (p. 72 of 89)

If Judge Lockemy still defines the case the same way today (and no one should dare speak for him), I would take this to mean he would see the matter at hand as a First Amendment case. If so, it seems to me if the majority of justices agree this is a First Amendment case, it would follow that they would have to defer to the Episcopal Church to decide its own polity and policies. This was essentially what the majority did in the SCSC decision of 2017 and what the circuit court did not do in 2020. 




GETTING READY



Wednesday, 8 December, 7:00 a.m. EST.

Good morning blog reader. 

Well, we are here. Today is the day we have awaited for a long time. The secessionist party's lawyers first filed suit against the Episcopal Church in state court nearly nine years ago, actually on January 4, 2013. I believe that today's hearing and the subsequent written decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court will settle the issue of which side owns the 29 parishes in question and Camp St. Christopher. If the justices decide to affirm Judge Dickson's Order of June 19, 2020, the secessionists will own the properties. On the other hand, if they decide the Episcopal Church side owns the properties, they will direct the circuit court to implement their decision. This would take time, but would eventually mean the Episcopal bishop would return to St. Michael's, St. Philip's, St. Helena's, Church of the Cross, and twenty-five others now occupied by the schismatic clergy. The Camp would be handed over to the Episcopal trustees. 

A word of caution, however. Remember there are two avenues of litigation, one state and one federal. The federal is still to be resolved. Judge Gergel's 2019 decision recognizing the Episcopal diocese as the only heir of the pre-schism diocese is on appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals, in Richmond. At the moment, it is on stay awaiting the decision of the SCSC. 


This is what I plan for today on this blog:


---post info about the Acting Justice as soon as the camera reveals the AJ's identity.


---post my initial thoughts about the hearing right after its conclusion.


---later in the day, post another essay about the hearing after I have had a couple of hours to listen to it again (I am recording it), get the quotes down correctly, and spend more time reflecting on what was said.


Meanwhile, I will have my coffee and morning meditation/prayer. If it were not raining, I would go out into my garden to watch the sun rise on a new day. I will also re-read Bishop Woodliff-Stanley's comforting reflection of yesterday which came in email. Peace.


Click HERE for the live-stream, to begin at 9:30 a.m. EST.

Sunday, December 5, 2021




THE HOUR IS NIGH



The hearing before the South Carolina Supreme Court is finally near at hand. It will be on Wednesday, the Eighth of December, at 9:30 a.m. EST, in the courtroom of the SCSC, in Columbia.

Following COVID-19 protocols, the only outsiders allowed in the courtroom will be the two attorneys named by each party. The rest may watch on the court's live-stream.

The two attorneys representing the Episcopal diocese will be Thomas Tisdale, chancellor of the diocese, and Bert G. (Skip) Utsey III. The national Episcopal Church will be represented by attorney Mary Kostel. The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina will be represented by C. Alan Runyan and C. Mitchell Brown.


The courtroom of the South Carolina Supreme Court. The seal of the court reads, "Nil ultra," nothing beyond (actually an issue in the case at hand).

Click HERE for the SCSC live-stream.


The question now is, For what should we look in the hearing?

First, let us consider what not to look for. The arguments of the lawyers on both sides are already well known and laid out in detail in the written briefs. No doubt, they will spend as much time as they can to press their main points. Each side has only 25 minutes, Episcopal side first, then Anglicans. Finally, the Episcopal lawyers have 10 minutes for rebuttal. The whole hearing is one hour.

For the written briefs of all parties, see the SC courts website:  sccourts.org/ACMS/. The Appellate Case Number is  2020-000986. This will give one all of the papers that have been filed in this appeal.

In a nutshell, the Episcopal side will probably argue that the SCSC has already settled the issues of the case in the three majority decisions of their August 2, 2017 opinion. Denial of rehearing and of cert in SCOTUS rendered the decision final. The SCSC remitted their opinion to the circuit court for implementation. Instead, the lower court improperly religitated the case and issued an Order in contradiction of the SCSC opinion. Thus, SCSC should vacate the lower court's action and restore the remittitur to the circuit court to enact the three majority decisions (actually two---one was implemented by the circuit court).


Click HERE for an impartial summary and full text of the SCSC Aug. 2, 2071 decision.


The Anglican side will argue that the SCSC decision was not definitive, but was fractured into five different opinions with no coherent majority. It did not give clear direction to the circuit court. The lower court had every right to interpret the meaning of the SCSC decision by considering its totality. Following this, the circuit court was right to find that no parish had acceded to the Dennis Canon and the local entities had properly followed state law to separate from the Episcopal Church. Thus, the SCSC should affirm the circuit court's finding and leave Dickson's Order of 2020 standing.


Click HERE for Judge Edgar Dickson's Order of June 19, 2020.


To get right down to basics, the argument is over who owns the properties of the 29 parishes and Camp St. Christopher. The Episcopal side claims it owns them essentially because of the Dennis Canon. The Anglican side asserts it owns them because the Dennis Canon had no effect under state law and the parishes (and diocese) legally and legitimately seceded from the Episcopal Church.

The matter at hand in the SCSC is the Episcopal side's appeal of Judge Dickson's 2020 Order which purported to reverse the 2017 SCSC decision and award all properties in question to the secessionist side. 


So, we know what the lawyers are going to say on Wednesday. The real question now is what the five justices are going to say. Their questions, comments, and discussions will give us hints as to their thinking, what they consider important, and the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments before them. After all, the justices will decide this case, not the lawyers. As an example of how important a hearing can be, the SCOTUS hearing last week on abortion told us very clearly where that court is going on Roe v. Wade (It is substantially dead). We got that simply by listening to what the nine justices said.

Justice John Kittredge is one to watch carefully on Wednesday.


Kittredge was a part of the 2017 decision when he and Chief Justice Jean Toal dissented from the majority. They concluded that the parishes owned their properties, but for different reasons. Kittredge argued that the Episcopal Church did create a trust under the "minimal burden" concept. He agreed that 29 of the 36 parishes in question had in fact acceded to the Dennis Canon. However, he went on that the parishes had legally and properly seceded from the Episcopal Church under state law and by doing so negated the trust. This left them with their local properties. (Toal argued that the Episcopal Church never imposed a trust and the parishes were always the owners of the properties without trust restriction.)

Thus, while Kittredge wound up favoring the secessionist side, and dissenting from the majority, most importantly, he declared that the 29 parishes had acceded to the Dennis Canon. Judge Dickson, in contradiction, held that not one of the parishes had ever acceded to the Canon. Dickson wrote:

This court finds that no parish acceded to the 1979 Dennis Canon (p.1 of 47).

So, the point to watch is how Kittredge reacts to the ADSC lawyers' assertions that he was wrong in his 2017 opinion concerning the parishes' accession to the Dennis Canon.

Another one to watch carefully is the present Chief Justice Donald Beatty:


He and Kittredge are the only ones of the five justices in the hearing who were parts of the 2017 decision. In the hearings before Judge Dickson, the ADSC lawyers made much of Beatty's opinion in the 2017 decision. Although Beatty wound up squarely on the side of the Church in his opinion, he said along the way that state law, as seen in the All Saints decision, required the parishes to set up trusts (could not be imposed from outside). He judged that the 29 parishes had acceded to the Dennis Canon, in effect setting up trusts. Beatty wrote:

their express accession to the Dennis Canon was sufficient to create an irrevocable trust (p. 38 of 77).

As I saw it, the ADSC lawyers interpreted Beatty's words as denying that TEC in fact had trust interest over the parishes. In other words, it seemed to me the lawyers charged that Beatty contradicted himself, or at least really meant to oppose the validity of the Dennis Canon in SC. So, it will be fascinating to hear how the ADSC lawyers explain Beatty's opinion to the Chief Justice's face.

The next justice to watch will be the Acting Justice. We know he or she will be a state judge prominent in the court system; and we will know his or her identity when the camera turns on. The court record of this case over nearly nine years runs to 9,000 plus pages. One has to admire any judge who would take on such a monumental challenge. Every justice has clerks, lawyers who do the leg work, but in the end the justice alone gives the judgment. I will be listening carefully to every word from the AJ. (I plan to post an announcement here of the AJ as soon as we all know the identity.)

Two more dark horses are the justices new to the court since the 2017 decision, Justice John C. Few:


and Justice George C. James, Jr.:


I, for one, have no idea of how to "read" these two since I know nothing about their past published opinions. So, as with the AJ, we will be listening carefully to their questions to get some sense of what their attitudes might be.

The hearing on Wednesday will be just that, a "hearing" of the lawyers' arguments and responses to the justices' questions, which are bound to be many. Then, we will have to wait for the written decision. We all know not to hold out breaths. The last time the hearing was in September of 2015 and the written decision appeared in August of 2017. Let us hope this time will be more expeditious.

The justices' decision(s) will be by majority vote. This hearing is an appeal of Judge Dickson's Order of June 19, 2020. To affirm or vacate the order will require a majority vote. However, if for some (highly unlikely) reason one justice abstains, a 2-2 tie would leave Dickson in place.

In my opinion, the justices should deny Dickson's Order and issue a new, clear, strong directive to the circuit court to implement all three of the majority decisions of the 2017 paper. The integrity of the South Carolina court system is at stake. A majority opinion of the state supreme court must be enforced. A lower court must not be allowed to defy such a decision, and a remittitur order to boot. If a lower court is permitted to "interpret" a high court opinion to the point of reversing it, chaos will result in the whole judicial system of the state. No decision of the SCSC would ever be final.

Thus, on one level, the issue before the court on Wednesday is really simple, whether to defend and enforce a state supreme court decision or to allow a circuit court to replace such. I, for one, do not see how such a choice could be controversial. It is cut and dried. The supreme court has to be that, supreme.

The other aspect that I think is cut and dried is the application of the First Amendment to this case. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the state from interfering in the internal affairs of a religious body. No civic court has a right to tell a church, particularly an hierarchical one (practically everyone except Judge Diane Goodstein agrees TEC is hierarchical), what it can and cannot do in its own affairs. Respect for the First Amendment alone should close this case in the interest of the Episcopal Church.

Finally, moving to the bigger picture, in my opinion, there is a right side and wrong side at odds beyond the particular issues of jurisprudence and Constitution. The larger issue at hand is one of human rights. The Episcopal Church is a champion of people who have been powerless, marginalized, ignored, discriminated against, even demonized for ages past. For seventy years, the Church has fought to make right historic moral wrongs, to bring equality and inclusion to all of God's children, most notably African Americans, women, and homosexuals. This is the right side of morality because it is the loving care of all of God's creation. Unfortunately, the leadership of the old diocese resolved to reject the Church's efforts for human rights. They led the majority of the diocese out of the Episcopal Church and adopted an explicit stand against equality and inclusion of gays and women. This is the wrong side of morality, and of history. 

And so, I hope and pray that the five justices considering this case see it as more than just a matter of human law. It is a matter of human rights for all of the citizens of South Carolina. It is a matter of the faithful promotion of the goodness of divine creation. If the justices understand this case on every level, justice will prevail.


Finally, dear reader, I expect to return on Wednesday. Then, I will post on this blog a report of the hearing as soon as I can organize my thoughts. I would like to have your thoughts too. I encourage you to share with all of us your impressions of the hearing and/or views of the case. Send to the email address above and, if you wish, I will share with readers. Until then, peace.

   

Wednesday, December 1, 2021




ABORTION AND THE SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT



Today, December 1, 2021, the United States Supreme Court held a hearing on the Mississippi state law that bans abortion after fifteen weeks. It seems clear the court is ready to uphold the MS law. This will be a major victory for the reactionary side of the contemporary American culture war. Ever since SCOTUS decided Roe v. Wade, in 1973, conservatives have been out to overturn it. Over the years, Republican administrations have packed federal courts with conservative judges, most importantly the three justices appointed by the Trump administration to the U.S. Supreme Court. The broader issue here in the culture war is equal rights for women. 

The essential issue in Roe and subsequent decisions was viability. A woman would be free to end a pregnancy until the fetus became "viable," that is, able to live on its own. This is normally at 24-26 weeks. The MS law discards viability and allows the state to set an arbitrary limit to abortion. If SCOTUS upholds the MS law, as it looks as if they will, this will abolish the central tenet of the Roe decision and render the decision essentially ineffective. This will free local states to set whatever limit they wish to abortion. One state, TX, has already ruled for six weeks, something that would all but end abortions in the state.

A woman's right to control her own body was based on the Fourteenth Amendment which held that the state could not deprive a person of rights. It was a question of a woman's human rights. By handing abortion to the state legislatures, the local states will be able to take away the constitutional rights of liberty from women. This would be a reversal of the democratic course of American history which has moved to greater personal freedom and equality, and, as I said, a monumental victory for the counter-revolutionaries in the fight against the contemporary democratic revolution.

In the hearing today, three justices were obviously ready to overturn Roe, Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh. Three were strongly pro Roe, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer. Of the others, two, Barrett and Gorsuch seems to lean against it while chief justice Roberts sounded in the middle. So, it seems to me there is at least a 5-4 majority in favor of upholding the MS law and effectively ending the Roe decision. 

After nearly fifty years of defending women's rights, SCOTUS now appears ready to make a major reversal of such rights. Why? Because conservatives have taken over the court and conservatism is resolved to stop the social and cultural changes that have been promoting a more and more democratic society and culture. The point is that even the highest court in the land is susceptible to the public pressures of the culture war.

This brings us to the South Carolina Supreme Court. It too faces a major decision (the church case); and it too must be conscious of the culture war and the expectations of conservatives. This would be especially acute in SC because all state judges and justices are elected by the state legislature for terms. In a sense, they are all political. We can be sure certain homophobic and misogynist forces in SC would like the state supreme court to side with them in the culture war. The Episcopal Church very publicly promoted equal rights and inclusion of non-celibate homosexuals and of women in the life of the church. Its opponent in court, the secessionist contingent, stood against equal rights and inclusion of gays and women. The church case before the SCSC has been and still is very much a part of the culture war and everyone knows it.

The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is about to cave in to the conservatives on the issue of equal rights for women shows it has fallen to the influences of the culture war. The question for us is, Will the SCSC do the same?

Not necessarily. The specific issue at hand before the SCSC is whether to affirm or reject a circuit court Order that directly contradicted a SC Supreme Court decision. It is a matter of jurisprudence. If the court sees the case as one of the culture war, the conservatives would want to side with the Anglican diocese, but to do that, the court would have to revoke its own decision that had become the law of the land. I do not see how the justices could support the conservatives and defend the integrity of the state supreme court, indeed, in the whole judicial system of the state. How could the justices say they were wrong in 2017? The only thing that has changed since then is the circuit judge's opinion. To side with the local judge, they would have to say they were wrong in 2017, an incredibly consequential and dangerous precedent to set.

So, on the whole, the reality shown so vividly today that the U.S. Supreme Court has fallen to the conservatives in the culture war may be seen as bad news for the church side in South Carolina. If one supreme court is so susceptible to the culture war, another would be so too. However, I would not jump to the conclusion that the SCSC will fall to the conservatives in the church case. 

The issue in South Carolina is the integrity of the state court system. The SC Supreme Court has ruled by majority decision that the Episcopal Church owns 29 pf the 36 parishes in question as well as the Camp. This decision has become law. As much as the conservatives on the SCSC may want to help the breakaways, they must think of their own place in the overall scope of the state's institutional structure. This is a matter of jurisprudence and not of culture.



ONE WEEK TO GO



Greetings, blog reader. Today is Wednesday, the First day of December 2021. One week from today, on Wednesday, December 8, 2021, the South Carolina Supreme Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on the church case. The five justices will "hear" the arguments of the lawyers on both sides. Since time is limited, one hour, much of it will be taken up by questions from the justices. According to the Court's posted rules, each party may have two lawyers in the courtroom. The Episcopal side has listed three lawyers since there are two parties on that side, the national church and the local diocese. The public will not be allowed in the courtroom. There will be a live-stream of the hearing for all to watch. I expect to watch and post a report here as soon as possible after the hearing.

We know there will be an Acting Justice to take the place of recused Justice Kaye Hearn. However, the court will not post the name of the AJ before the hearing. As soon as the camera turns on, we will all know the identity of the AJ. I will relay it on this blog as soon as the hearing begins.

The matter before the court is simple: whether to affirm or reverse Judge Edgar Dickson's Order of 2019 which awarded all local properties in question to the secessionist side. The Episcopal side is appealing Dickson's Order. Dickson reversed most of the South Carolina Supreme Court decision of August 2, 2017, which had awarded 29 of the 36 parishes in question, plus Camp St. Christopher, to the Episcopal side (he recognized and enacted one of the three majority decisions in the SCSC opinion---the one giving seven parishes the properties). So, the question boils down to whose decision should stand as final, the state supreme court's or the circuit court's. This should be a no-brainer.

After nearly nine years (since Jan. 4, 2013) in court, we are nearing the expected end of the litigation. In effect, the SCSC is about to decide at long last who gets the bulk of the local properties and the Camp, the secessionist diocese or the Episcopal Church. The federal court has already decided that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and the Episcopal diocese is the one and only true heir of the pre-schism diocese (this is now on appeal but not on stay). The fed court even issued an Injunction forbidding the schismatics from claiming in any way to be the historic diocese, something the Episcopal side had to enforce twice following the breakaways' intransigence. To say all of this twisted litigation has been contentious would be an understatement. 

My advice to all of us, on the cusp of what will probably be the deciding judgment of the court on the property, is to listen carefully to the questions the justices ask next Wednesday. They will indicate the thinking and direction of the justices as they contemplate this appeal.

I have laid out the issues as I understand them as well as I can in earlier blog posts. I am repeating two that may be helpful to review, the first from September 24, 2021, and the other from May 13, 2021.


Originally posted on September 24, 2021:



BEFORE THE SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT, AGAIN



The Episcopal Church case is back before the South Carolina Supreme Court. The justices have scheduled a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 December 2021, in the courtroom of the Supreme Court building, in Columbia. I assume it will be livestreamed. I plan to be in the courtroom in person if at all possible.

The issue before the SCSC now is the appeal brought by the Episcopal Church side of Judge Edgar Dickson's order of 19 June 2020. Dickson ruled that the 29 parishes in question, not the Episcopal Church, own their own property, and the Anglican diocese owns Camp St. Christopher, not the Episcopal diocese. On these essential points, Dickson reversed the SC Supreme Court decision of August 2, 2017. The SCSC had ruled that the Episcopal Church owned the local properties and the Episcopal diocese owned the Camp.

The crux of the matter was the Dennis Canon. The SCSC ruled that the 29 had acceded to the Canon. Judge Dickson ruled that the 29 had not acceded to the Canon. 

The hearing will allow the justices to hear the presentations of both sides and to ask questions of the lawyers. One may assume that Alan Runyan will lead the team for the secessionist side as he has done from day one. However, the lawyer who made the case for the Episcopal Church side in the hearing of 2015 will not do the same. Blake Hewitt is now a justice on the SC Court of Appeals. To my knowledge, the Church side has not announced the lawyers who will speak in the hearing.

The long legal war of the schism is now in the ninth inning. It is approaching the end. What the SCSC rules on TEC's appeal of Dickson's order will almost certainly be the end of the game. If they uphold the Dickson order, the breakaways keep the parish properties and the Camp. If they uphold the SCSC decision of 2017 and deny Dickson, the Episcopal Church diocese gets the 29 parishes and the Camp. It is as simple, and important, as that. It will be one or the other, for keeps.

The losing side could appeal the SCSC decision to the U.S. Supreme Court but the chance they would take it is between nil and none. So, whatever the SCSC decides next will close the book. This is what makes this hearing so important. It is the last chance both sides have to make their best cases. They had better be well prepared.

I do not know how to give my thoughts on the situation before the SCSC now any better than I did in the blog piece below that I originally posted on May 13, 2021. It think it is worthwhile to repeat:




THE CRISIS BEFORE

THE SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT



The crisis of the hour is in the hands of the justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court. What they decide will seal the fate of the schism in South Carolina. After eight and a half years of bruising legal warfare, the judicial settlement is approaching. Which side will finally take possession of the 29 parishes and the Camp? While we wait, we have a good opportunity to review the state of the litigation between the old Church diocese (EDSC) and the new breakaway diocese (ADSC).



The South Carolina Supreme Court, Columbia.


First, the salient facts on how we reached this point:

---2017, Aug. 2.  The South Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision on the Church diocese's appeal of Judge Diane Goodstein's Order of Feb. 3, 2017. The SCSC ruling listed three majority decisions: 1) 8 (7) parishes own their own property, 2) the Episcopal Church owns 28 (29) of the 36 parishes in question, and 3)the Episcopal diocese owns Camp St. Christopher.



The SCSC majority decisions are enumerated 1, 2, 3. Click on for enlargement.


---Nov. 17.  SCSC denied ADSC's request for a rehearing (on vote of 2-2).

---Nov. 17.  SCSC issued a Remittitur to the Circuit Court for the implementation of its Aug. 2 decision.

---2018, June 11.  The U.S. Supreme Court denied ADSC's petition for review of the SCSC Aug. 2 2017 decision (denial of cert).

---2019, Sept. 19.  U.S. District Court judge in Charleston, Richard Gergel, issued an Order recognizing the Episcopal Church as an hierarchical institution and the Church diocese as the only legal heir of the old diocese. He also issued an injunction banning the breakaway faction from claiming in any way to be the historic diocese. This was the first federal court decision on the question of the hierarchical nature of the Episcopal Church. 

On Dec. 18, 2019, Gergel denied ADSC's request for a stay of his Order. On Jan. 14, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals denied ADSC's request for a stay of the Order. Thus, Gergel's Order remains in effect.

---2020, June 19.  Circuit Court Edgar Dickson issued an Order reversing the SCSC decision on the 29 parishes and the Camp. He declared the Episcopal Church had no interest in the parishes on the grounds they had not acceded to the Dennis Canon. The majority of justices of SCSC had ruled that the 29 had in fact acceded to the Dennis Canon.

---Aug. 8.  The SCSC agreed to take EDSC's appeal of Dickson's Order. 

---Oct. 29.  The U.S. Court of Appeals agreed to stay ADSC's appeal of Gergel's decision pending a ruling from the SCSC.

---Nov. 12, 2020 to Mar. 4, 2021, the EDSC and ADSC filed briefs with the SCSC. EDSC argued to overturn Dickson in favor of the SCSC decision. ADSC argued to sustain Dickson's Order.

The basic question is, Which side is entitled to the ownership of the 29 parishes and the Camp? The opposing views are the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017 favoring the TEC side, and the Circuit Court Order of June 19, 2020 favoring the breakaway faction.


The SC Supreme Court of today taking up this matter is not the same as the court that handed down the decision of 2017. Two justices who participated in 2017 have retired (Toal and Pleicones). Another justice from 2017 has recused herself from the case (Hearn). This leaves four active justices today. It is possible the court could bring in an "Acting Justice" to fill out the five seats, but there has been no word about this.

The two justices who sat on the 2017 bench still there are Chief Justice Donald Beatty and Justice John Kittredge. 



Chief Justice Donald Beatty.


Beatty voted for the Church side while Kittredge voted against the Church. Both men agreed that the parishes had acceded to the Dennis Canon (four of the five justices agreed) but while Beatty said the parishes could not revoke their accessions, Kittredge held they could, and did, repeal their accessions to the Canon. Thus, while Beatty concluded that the Episcopal Church owned the 29 parishes and the Camp, Kittredge maintained the Church did not own them. Beatty joined with Pleicones and Hearn to form the majority on the court to rule in favor of the Episcopal Church. Kittredge and Toal formed the minority and issued dissenting opinions.

The two new justices who replaced Toal and Pleicones on the court are George C. James, Jr. and John Cannon Few. 


Justice George C. James, Jr.

James lives in Sumter where he is a lay leader in the Trinity United Methodist Church and active in numerous other local organizations. Find the SCSC blurb about him here .



Justice John Cannon Few.

Find the SCSC bio on Few here . One interesting point about Few is that he married Stephanie Yarborough in St. Philip's Church, in Charleston, in 2019. Since this was a remarriage on both parts, they had to go through a process to get permission of Bishop Lawrence for the marriage to take place in the church.

How these two new justices will interface with the whole matter before them now is something that cannot be known, at least not to a layperson as myself. I suppose it would take an expert in the state courts of SC to tell us how their past opinions might foreshadow their leanings on the question of the ownership of the church properties.

A highly important factor that must be considered here is the voting. Unless the court brings in a temporary "Acting Justice," to raise the number to five, there will be four justices to decide this appeal. A two-to-two tie would leave Dickson's Order in place (a majority has to vote to overturn). Since the matter before the SCSC is the appeal of Dickson's ruling, the vote will be whether to sustain his Order or to overturn it. To sustain it, the court must vote two or more of the four. To overturn it, the court must vote three or more of the four. Thus, the Church side has the harder challenge here. If we assume Beatty will vote for the Church and Kittredge will vote for the breakaways (as they did in 2017), the whole matter is in the hands of the two new, and unknown, justices. Everything rests on their opinions. The Church needs both of them. The breakaways need only one of them.


In my opinion, there are two ways of approaching the matter at hand, as a cultural issue and as a judicial issue. I think the settlement will depend on where the justices place the fundamental importance of this case. 

As everyone knows (at least those who have read my history), the direct cause of the schism was the blessing of same-sex unions. When the Episcopal Church moved to this in 2012, the clerical leadership of the old diocese took the opportunity to lead the majority of the laity out of the diocese and the Episcopal Church. In short, the Episcopal Church championed equality for and inclusion of homosexuals persons in the life of the church. The reactionaries in the diocese of South Carolina opposed any acceptance of homosexuality and created the schism to prevent these reforms from applying to the majority of the old diocese. This was a part of a culture war that has been waging in America for the past seventy or so years. To be simplistic, the basic cultural issue is stark: for or against inclusion of non-celibate homosexuals in the life of the church. Since the issue of homosexuality sparked the schism with its ensuing litigation, the justices may choose to see the whole litigation as fundamental to the culture war. If so, their attitudes toward homosexuality will skew their opinions. 

On the other hand, there is a very great issue here of jurisprudence. Under the long-established order of the court system, there is a hierarchy in the state courts topped by the supreme court. A ruling by the state supreme court is just that, supreme in the state. The 2017 opinion of the SCSC became the law of the land when the court denied a rehearing and the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert thus ending any possible appeal. Since it is the law of the land, it cannot be changed or re-litigated. 

In my view the circuit court made two violations of the state judicial system. In one, it refused the Remittitur from the SCSC. I do not see how a lower court has the right to refuse an order from a higher court. In another, the circuit judge re-litigated the case and substituted his own finding that the 29 parishes had not acceded to the Dennis Canon in place of the state supreme court's finding that the 29 had acceded to the Dennis Canon. He directly contradicted the majority of the SCSC on the question of accession to the Dennis Canon. What right does a circuit judge have to replace a judgment of a higher court?

Thus, if the SCSC now upholds the Dickson Order, it will establish two landmark and severely dangerous precedents, that a lower court can refuse to accept a remit order from a higher court, and a lower judge can reject and replace a majority decision of a higher court.

If the SCSC allows Dickson's Order to stand, this will upend the entire state court system in South Carolina. Higher courts will no longer have superiority over the lower courts. No order of the state supreme court would have to be accepted and implemented. There would be never ending litigation thus destroying the entire concept of jurisprudence in the state. In short, no decision of a state court would ever be final. If so, what would be the purpose of having courts at all? No law could ever really be enforced.

Before they vote on the Dickson Order, the justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court ought to consider long and hard what the effects of their decision will be. In my view, upholding Dickson will be catastrophic to jurisprudence. It would establish an unbelievably dangerous precedent that could not be erased. 

Let us bear in mind too that the United States was the first country in the world established on the principle that the civic state must be entirely separate from religious institutions. This concept of the separation of church and state was enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Over the years, it has served us Americans phenomenally well. Now, it is part and parcel of our American character. 

No court has the right to interfere in the affairs of a religious institution. Moreover, the federal court has declared the Episcopal Church to be hierarchical. A court in South Carolina should not decide what the Episcopal Church can and cannot do in terms of its own internal structure. The Church has the right to decide its own rules. As an hierarchical body, the Episcopal Church has the right to enforce its own law, as the Dennis Canon. The civic state must respect this if it is to abide by the First Amendment. 

The fundamental judicial issue here is freedom of religion. Every religious institution in America ought to be concerned about the possible infringement of the state on their rights. The Episcopal Church certainly is. The Diocese of South Carolina certainly is. Finally, the justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court ought to be equally concerned. We must maintain the separation of church and state. It is crucial to the future of freedom in America. This is the real crisis looming in the South Carolina Supreme Court.

_____________________________

My usual disclaimer. I am neither a lawyer nor a legal expert. What I offer here is only opinion.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021




HEARING HELD TODAY IN ALL SAINTS, FT. WORTH CASE



A hearing was held today in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Texas, Ft. Worth in the All Saints, Ft. Worth case.


See here for the report today on the Court website. From the list posted today, it seems to me the breakaway diocese (known ironically as the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth even though it has no connection to the Episcopal Church) is asking the court for a Summary Judgment against the parish on the basis of the Texas Supreme Court decision, which it submitted today. I suppose at some time in the future, the court will issue a written decision on these motions. From what I can tell, which is only what is on the Court website, the All Saints parish is trying to protect itself from immediate seizure by the breakaway diocese while the diocese is trying to get immediate possession of the parish and all of its assets, including bank accounts (as of April 2009). 

All Saints Episcopal Church, in Ft. Worth, remained loyal to the Episcopal Church throughout the run-up and the course of the schism and its litigation. The legal war came to an end this year when the Texas Supreme Court decision became final. That decision gave all in question to the breakaway diocese, thus allowing it to have all parish properties as of April of 2009 when the law suits began. The parish filed bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where the case is now. 



Thursday, November 25, 2021




GIVING THANKS



Happy Thanksgiving, blog reader. It is Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2021. We have much for which to give thanks on this special day and we should remember this as we gather with family, friends, and community and celebrate life.

For starters, I think we should take Mr. Rogers's advice and close our eyes and give thanks for all the people in our lives who made us who we are. None of us is alone. None of us got to this place alone. We are where we are because of the people who helped us along the way. I am sure each of us has a long list. At the top of my list right now is my major professor from Florida State U. who recently died. While I grieve, I give thanks for his life.

I give thanks too for family and friends. My local parish, St. Luke's, of Jacksonville AL, is providing a free Thanksgiving meal for the whole community. This started some twenty-five years ago as a small event and has gained scope every year. This year, the Methodists are helping because the task has grown beyond St. Luke's capacity. Right now, cooks are at the church preparing 750 meals for pick-up and home delivery. This is an amazing feat for a small church in a small town.


(The servant church at work. Never let it be said that one person, or a few people, cannot make a difference. A church that started with a single person more than a century and a half ago makes, still, a tremendous difference to the larger community because it never lost its commitment to serve all people. Today I give thanks for the faithful servants of St. Luke's.)


As for South Carolina, I am thankful for the seven thousand Episcopalians who refused to go along with the erring crowd. While the old leadership and majority of the diocese decided they had to stand against freedom, equality, and inclusion of all of God's children in the church, the right-thinking people resolved to stand for the human rights of other people even at cost to themselves. From Georgia to North Carolina, even in small towns and rural countryside, faithful Episcopalians everywhere stood and said "No" to prejudice and discrimination. They met in little groups wherever they could find space. They kept the faith with God and their fellow human beings. 

Today I am lost in thanksgiving for these people who gave of themselves and chose the hard way because it was the right way. I especially give thanks for the people who had to leave their church homes and for those who stayed awaiting the return of the Episcopal bishop. While no one knows the future, I say to you there is a good chance the courts will finally rule on your side. You have come so far down a very long and hard road; do not lose hope. You are my heroes. Two thousand years of history are looking down on you. You are in the very good company of the saints who kept the faith that the Holy Spirit moved through the whole church.

Finally, I am thankful for you, blog reader. You keep me going even on the dark days, especially on the dark days.   

Monday, November 22, 2021




NOTES,  22 NOVEMBER 2021



Greetings, blog reader, on Monday, November 22, 2021. My best wishes to you. It is time to take stock and check in on the issues we have been following for some time now. This is Thanksgiving week, always a busy time; and with Christmas bearing down, it is too easy to get lost in all the hullabaloo of holiday doings. It is good to stop, take a pause, and look at the world around us.

This is a bitter-sweet time. Part of the bitter is that today, November 22, is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in 1963. All people who were alive on that day will never forget where they were when they learned the news. I was a junior at Florida State U. and was enjoying a beautiful, sunny day as I walked to French class after lunch. In the hallway outside the door I saw a group of students huddled around a small transistor radio. Someone whispered that the President had been shot. What I remember now is the quietness of it all. Everyone was in shock. No one wanted to talk. A few minutes later came the report of the death. We all dispersed in total silence and drifted about that beautiful campus as lost sheep. At 5 o'clock, I went to the Episcopal chapel where a standing room crowd read the Great Litany. Again, the eerie silence of it all stands out in my mind today. It was as if we were all too disoriented by the clashing belief and disbelief that the unthinkable event had actually happened.

Part of our anguish at the time was the incredulity that a lone gunman, a nobody, could possibly have done this most consequential crime. A few years ago, I was on one of my cross-country train rides when the train stopped in Dallas for awhile on its way to Los Angeles. Dealey Plaza, as it turned out, was only a stone's throw from the station; and so I explored the area. I was amazed at how much smaller the plaza was in person than in the pictures and what a perfect spot Oswald had chosen. Any competent marksman could have done the same thing from that window.

COVID. Although in many ways conditions of life are improving, we must not forget we are still very much in a pandemic, the worst in a century. In fact, statistically, in America it has bypassed the last one, the great flu pandemic of 1918-19. In the world, some 5.1 million people have died from COVID-19. The United States continues to have the highest number of cases and of deaths. Nearly 800,000 Americans have died in this plague (600,000 died in the flu pandemic). In South Carolina and Alabama, nearly one in five people have contracted the virus. In SC, 14,096 people have died in this pandemic, in AL, 16,073. While the last surge topped out in September, there are worrying signs that a fourth surge may be starting as winter sets in. Meanwhile, most Americans have been vaccinated and now have access to booster shots. While daily life is gradually moving back to "normal," COVID-19 is still very much with us and we must not let down our guards.

THE ADVENT. Life is gradually moving back to "normal" too at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham. The hootenanny band is being moved out of the nave and services are returning to what one would call traditional Episcopal prayer book worship. The parish is continuing the process of finding a new dean to replace the Rev. Pearson, who, incidentally, is busy setting up a new (non-Episcopal) church, now meeting in a synagogue. According to his own word, about 100 people left the Advent to follow him. The Advent claims some 3,000 members.

SCHISM. All attention is now focused on the hearing set for December 8, 2021, in the South Carolina Supreme Court. Although the public will not be allowed in the courtroom, everyone can watch the proceeding on the court's live-stream.

We know that, as per state law, a fifth acting justice has been assigned to take the place of recused Justice Kaye Hearn. However, the court will not put the name of the AJ on its website because the assignment is subject to change. Of course, we will all know the identity of the AJ when the camera turns on for the live-stream, just two weeks from Wednesday. The AJ is certain to be an experienced judge prominent in the state court system.

Of the five justices to decide this case, two were part of the 2015 hearing and 2017 written decision: Donald Beatty (now chief justice) and John Kittredge. Beatty voted with the majority on the Episcopal side while Kittredge voted with the minority on the secessionist side. Three of the five justices had nothing to do with the earlier litigation: John Few, George James, and the AJ. 

This hearing is on the Episcopal appeal of Judge Edgar Dickson's 2020 Order recognizing local ownership of the 29 parishes in question and the Camp. The core of Dickson's opinion was that the parishes had not acceded to the Dennis Canon. This was a reversal of the 2017 SCSC decision when four of the five justices had ruled that the parishes had acceded to the Canon. Beatty and Kittredge were among the four. 

The five justices now will have to decide between the SCSC decision of 2017 and Dickson's Order of 2020. The SCSC  majority ruled that the Dennis Canon was in effect and the Episcopal Church became the owner of the properties. Dickson ruled that the Dennis Canon was ineffective and the local congregations were the owners of the properties. So, the five justices will decide whether the supreme court's decision should stand or the circuit court's order should be final. If they decide for the circuit court, they will be revoking their own decision which became the law. If they allow a lower court to reverse a supreme court decision they will upend the entire judicial system of the state of South Carolina. However much they may dress this up in legalese, this would undermine forever the authority and integrity of the state supreme court. The stakes for jurisprudence in SC could not be higher. 

If I have learned anything keeping this blog, it is not to make predictions. However, I do wonder if the recent election of a bishop coadjutor in the secessionist diocese of SC might hint at the future. If the breakaways were sure they were going to prevail in court, would not they plan for the future as a viable, independent organization? By electing a man from the overlapping and rival diocese in ACNA over two of their own internal candidates, the schismatics of the old diocese may be signaling a merger with their rivals/friends. By joining another reactionary diocese, they would lose their particular identity as the continuing majority of the old Diocese of South Carolina (something they were forced to recant by the federal court in 2019). So, I wonder if the "Anglican" lawyers know something the rest of us do not know, that they have lost this case. If they do lose, they will wind up with six parishes and nothing of the pre-schism diocese. In this case it would make perfect sense to merge with another like-minded group.

It would be foolish at this point to jump to any conclusions. The justices may find some way (although I cannot imagine it) to meld their 2017 decision with Dickson and wind up giving the local properties to the schismatics. If they do, nothing really changes from the present status quo. The local congregations in question will go on as part of an ACNA diocese and the Episcopal diocese will go on as is.

If, however, the justices overrule Dickson and order the enforcement of their court's 2017 decision, a great deal will change. Presumably the SCSC would send down another order of implementation to the circuit court. The actual transfer of the properties back to the Episcopal Church would be under the control of the circuit court. This could be dragged out for a long time. Judge Dickson has shown his true colors. It could be years before the Episcopal bishop could reappear in any one of the 29 parishes. So, even if the SCSC rules in favor of the Episcopal Church, the actual end of the schism may still be a long time off. The breakaways have made it abundantly clear they will pursue deny and delay to the bitter end. They have scornfully rejected every offer of compromise and settlement by mediation.

In my opinion, when all is said and done, the church case is a test of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The first part of this requires the separation of church and state. Throughout all the years, this has become a bedrock principle of American democracy. Under this, the civic state, including its courts, must not intrude on the rights of a religious body to govern itself. In this case, the hierarchical Episcopal Church set its own rules regarding property. No court has the right under the First Amendment to reject this. No court can tell the Episcopal Church that its canon laws on property cannot apply because they violate state law. Church law and state law must remain separate.

It seems to me that the First Amendment was the heart of the SCSC decision of 2017 and that Dickson's order was in direct defiance of it. If the state supreme court said interference in church governance was protected by the First Amendment in 2017, I do not see how they could say it is not protected in 2021. The First Amendment has not changed. The issues in this case have not changed. What has changed is the circuit court's interpretation of the case. This is the matter before the SC Supreme Court now.  


Let us not get overwhelmed by all the natural and man-made woes clouding over us. God created all things and set the universe in order. Seasons come and seasons go, year in and year out, forever, regardless of whatever else may be going on in our lives. The rhythms of nature remind us that there is a much bigger picture to life in a creation much greater than ourselves. 

Autumn is also a bitter-sweet time, especially to gardeners as myself. Sweet because we revel in the brilliant colors of the plants. Bitter because we know the cold winds and long nights of winter are not far behind. Today, let us be positive and revel in the beauty of the day. Go for a ride down a country road, go for a long walk, sit on your porch or balcony, or at least sit at your window and look at the wonders of nature all around us in this glorious autumn season. Breathe in the cool and dry air of the fall and rejoice that summer's heat and humidity have finally gone.

Here are some pictures of my garden in the past few days:            


Although the large, brilliant trees, as the maples, tend to steal the show in autumn, many other trees and shrubs also put on noteworthy displays of color. Here is a common blueberry bush. We think of blueberry giving us countless delicious berries in June, but we should also notice it in November. This bush is full grown at eight feet. I leave the berries for the birds. If their music is any indication, I am sure I have the happiest birds in the county.


Forsythia is a favorite shrub in my region, and for good reason. In February these bushes will be covered with tiny bright yellow flowers, even before they put out any leaves. They are beautiful in spring, but look at them in autumn too.  


In planning my garden, I mixed formal and informal. Here is an informal patch with Japanese Silver Grass on right, red Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus) in center, and yellow Grancy Grey Beard (Chionanthus virginicus) bounded by a walkpath in front of a formal row of evergreen hollies and Japanese Cedar trees. 



Camellias are the stars of the winter garden but some actually start blooming in September. This is "Autumn Pink Icicle." It blooms for two months from September to November in a profusion of deep pink flowers.



Governor Mouton is an old favorite camellia. The bush grows to 15 feet and puts out many red flowers in fall and winter.



Alabama Croton (Croton alabamensis) is an endangered species growing in the wild only in a few ever-shrinking spots, mostly in northern Alabama. It is one of my favorite shrubs because it puts out beautiful leaves, green on top and silver on bottom. It is semi-evergreen. In autumn, some leaves turn pumpkin orange.



Persian Ironwood Tree (Parrotia persica) is native of Iran. A good small tree for the home yard/garden, it grows to about 15 feet. In autumn, it turns a lemon yellow. This one is in my back yard, outside my bedroom window. Its beauty greets me every morning when I open the curtains. 

So, life goes on and we must go with it. This is the time that God gave to us for the living of our lives. The present woes and tribulations we did not ask for but they are parts of it all. They were handed to us along with the rest and we must bear them. We wish they would go away and leave us alone but they will not. That is not our choice to make. The choice we have is how to live our lives even in the face of adversity. If we believe in an ordered universe, and I do, we must have confidence everything has a place and a reason even though it may be as indecipherable to us as it was to Job. Peace.