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Judge Dickson rules in favor of Anglican Diocese of S.C.

Founded in 1680, St. Philip’s is the oldest congregation in the United States south of Virginia; nearby St. Michael’s Anglican Church, sits on the spot where the first church building was erected in S.C., which was at the time St. Philip’s.

On June 19, 2020, Judge Edgar W. Dickson, of the First Judicial Circuit in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, issued an order finding: “no parish acceded to the 1979 Dennis Canon; the deed of Camp St. Christopher titled to the Trustee Corporation is controlling; the Federal Court has exclusive authority to decide all issues relating to the trademarks, service marks and intellectual property; and the defendants’ petition for the appointment of a special master and petition for an accounting are denied.”

Recall that five separate opinions came from the Supreme Court of South Carolina on August 2, 2017, and following subsequent motions and petitions, the case was remitted to the state trial court. The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina filed a motion for clarification of jurisdiction and other relief in March of 2018. TEC and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (Defendants) filed a petition for execution and other relief in May of 2018.

Judge Dickson’s order applies the “neutral principles of law” as directed by the majority of the state Supreme Court finding that a trust in parish property can be created in favor of TEC only if a parish church, in a signed writing, expressly agreed to the Dennis Canon. Moreover, the judge’s order recognizes that the 28 parishes’ names are on the deeds and that a valid trust under South Carolina law was never created or acknowledged by the parishes.

As pointed out by the chancellors of St. Philip’s Church: “Judge Dickson reviewed the evidence admitted at trial — that had not been made available to the South Carolina Supreme Court — and concluded that there was no evidence of written accession to the Dennis Canon in the trial record.” In addition, Chancellors Ben Hagood, Jr. and Foster Gaillard said: “The court found that although some parishes merely promised allegiance to TEC, that no parish expressly acceded to the 1979 Dennis Canon and thus this promise cannot deprive them of their ownership rights in their property.”

As noted above and with regards to the trademarks, service marks and intellectual property at issue in the litigation, Judge Dickson found that the federal court has jurisdiction over these matters. These matters were decided by an order issued on September 19, 2019, by United States District Judge Richard Gergel granting summary judgment to the defendants, and that order is currently on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Judge Dickson has previously acknowledged in open court that whatever order he issues would likely be appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which clearly seems to be at work, according to a statement from the Diocese of South Carolina. Though the diocese said that Judge Dickson’s order “seems to be contrary to that decision”; the facts suggest this is in complete opposition with that 2017 ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court, which issued five different opinions regarding the dispute, creating the confusion that Judge Dickson addressed directly on June 19, 2020.

“This is not a final decision; it is yet another step on a long journey to full reconciliation within our diocese,” said Diocesan Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr.

“While we are understandably disappointed that Judge Dickson has not enforced the Supreme Court’s decision as directed, we are hopeful that the South Carolina Supreme Court will hear the matter promptly and correct any errors that exist in today’s order,” said Tisdale. The Diocese of S.C. emphasized that their legal team is at work on a “formal response to this order that will be filed in the near future.”

The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina represents approximately 80 percent of the former diocese that was under TEC. Social media and various Anglican websites have celebrated this ruling and consistently referred to it as “an answered prayer.”

Image courtesy Wikimedia, Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0

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