(The State) How a South Carolina Supreme Court decision threatens religious freedom


The court’s ruling violates these constitutional principles, creating a standard for property trusts that favors some organizations over others. The majority opinion suggests that an unincorporated association, merely by changing its bylaws, can claim the property of its members. It would be as if the U.S. Chamber of Commerce passed a rule claiming an interest in the property of every local chamber, with no explicit local agreement to that transfer of ownership.

There is no statute or common law in South Carolina supporting the validity of such a claim, yet that is what this ruling does. It asserts that there are different rules for religious versus non-religious entities. That is a disturbing precedent. As Justice John Kittredge observed in his dissent, “The message is clear for churches in South Carolina that are affiliated in any manner with a national organization and have never lifted a finger to transfer control or ownership of their property — if you think your property ownership is secure, think again.”

With freedom of association comes freedom to disassociate. Churches that freely associated with each other should be free to disassociate — and that disassociation should not cost them the very ministries that were established by local sacrifice. When the vast majority of…[parishioners] choose to disassociate (80 percent in this case) in keeping with state law and Supreme Court precedent, the courts should respect the decision.

There are also essential issues of fairness at stake in this case. A principle of the 14th Amendment is that no one in government should make decisions on matters in which they have a vested interest. In this ruling, the deciding vote was cast by a justice who belongs to a parish, diocese and national denomination that stand to gain tremendously from the outcome.

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Posted in * South Carolina, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

One comment on “(The State) How a South Carolina Supreme Court decision threatens religious freedom

  1. Katherine says:

    It’s encouraging to see so many religious leaders from South Carolina on the signature list. This could affect all churches. I am happy to see the REC bishops on the list.