The unanimous decision announced on April 20, 2022 by the South Carolina Supreme Court fulfilled (by its unanimity) at least one of the predictions made in the previous post on this blog after the oral arguments last December. Unanimity, however, in this instance served not to resolve thorny issues of South Carolina law, but rather sent a strong signal that the collective Justices were circling their wagons around their own, in a somewhat transparent attempt to recover the Court’s dignity lost in the fiasco created by its disgraceful disunity in 2017.
The result (reached by implicit design) can, alas, bring peace to neither of the litigating factions. Applying extremely arbitrary criteria of its own devising, the Court decided that of the twenty-nine individual parishes before it, fourteen (by the documents they adopted) allowed the nationwide trust specified in the Dennis Canon to be applied to their properties, while fifteen did not. The hair-splitting on display here is best illustrated by the following passage from footnote 12 of the main opinion by Justice Few:
The analysis of whether Holy Cross, Stateburg satisfied the second element discussed above—intent to create a trust—is the same as our analysis for St. Paul’s, Bennettsville, but the outcome of the case for the two Parishes is different. This is because Holy Cross, Stateburg took affirmative present action in its 2011 Bylaws to “accede to the . . . Canons of the [National Church],” but St. Paul’s, Bennettsville merely stated it was “organized under” and “subject to” the Canons.
This strained construction transforms the English word “accede” (“join in, agree and consent to”) into a poison pill that forever dooms the property of the parish using it to belong to the national Church rather than to the parish itself and its members — the latter are entitled to make use of their own property only for as long as they agree to remain with the sinking ecclesiastical shipwreck that is the current Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
The construction has acquired its severity by a questionable legerdemain performed by Justice Few and his colleagues.
A Pastoral Letter To The Clergy And People Of The #Anglican Diocese Of South Carolina in the light of today's #SouthCarolina Supreme Court ruling https://t.co/v6zbK37lCk #law #history #parishministry #religion #lowcountrylife pic.twitter.com/YF8TGr2604
— Kendall Harmon (@KendallHarmon6) April 20, 2022