Today The Episcopal Church (TEC) filed their reply, as requested by the Court, to the motions by the Diocese of South Carolina and 28 parish churches for recusal and rehearing in the South Carolina Supreme Court, regarding its recent ruling in Appellate Case No. 2015-000622.
On behalf of the Diocese of South Carolina, Rev. Canon Jim Lewis issued the following statement:
“Today’s filing by The Episcopal Church argues in essence, that the Diocese and its parishes waived their right to recusal, by not requesting it earlier, and that the Constitutional issues raised in their motions are negligible or mistaken. The facts in this ruling, as it presently stands however, will not yield to such arguments. Justice Hearn’s bias and conflict of interest is clear to any impartial observer. The Constitutional issues for Freedom of Religion remain. As our petition for rehearing stated: “These are serious issues for Respondents, Appellants and for all religious organizations in South Carolina. This Court should grant a rehearing.” That continues to be our hope and Constitutional expectation from the Court.”
The Diocese is also providing the following background information and details:
• In 2012, the Diocese of South Carolina, along with 50 of its congregations voted by an 80% margin to disassociate from The Episcopal Church. In a complicated and sharply divided ruling consisting of five separate opinions, the S.C. Supreme Court appeared to rule on August 2 this year that parishes which had “acceded” to the national church are subject to a trust interest in their property by (TEC).
• The Constitutional due process requirements of the 14th Amendment are clear. No member of government should make decisions in matters in which they have a vested interest in the outcome. The Justice in this ruling who provided the deciding vote is a member of a TEC parish, Diocese and its national church. Under South Carolina law, that Justice is a legal party to this litigation. The bodies to which this Justice belongs as a member would be the beneficiaries of a nearly $500 million property windfall if this ruling stands. That is a massive conflict of interest. And it is the responsibility of the judge, under the South Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, to reveal that issue, not for a party in the case to challenge the propriety of their actions.
• The expert affidavit testimonies of Nathan M. Crystal, Professor and Adjunct Professor of Ethics at the University of South Carolina and NYU Schools of Law and Lawrence J. Fox, Professor of Ethics at Yale University are unanimous in their conclusions. The due process rights of the Diocese of South Carolina have been violated by these actions and the only appropriate response is for this Justice to be recused from further participation in this case and their opinion vacated. As Lawrence Fox observes in his analysis, “This is not a close case.” The violations of due process here are not subtle. They are profound….