A.S. Haley on the recent legal Rulings in the Episcopal Church's S.C. and Texas Legal Battles

In another recent but unpublished decision, the same [South Carolina] Court of Appeals disposed in one paragraph of an appeal by a Baptist Church Conference from a judgment finding it had no ownership or trust interest in the property of one of its churches (Haselden v. New Hope Church, No. 2012-213355, March 19, 2014) (h/t: commenter “Joe”). The per curiam opinion is self-explanatory:

The General Conference of the Free Will Baptist Church of the Pentecostal Faith (“the Conference”) appeals the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of New Hope Church (“New Hope”) on the grounds that New Hope owned the property on which it was situated free and clear of any legal interest claimed by the Conference. We affirm pursuant to Rule 220(b), SCACR, and the following authorities: Rule 56(c), SCRCP (stating that summary judgment is proper when no genuine issue exists as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law); Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595, 603 (1979) (stating that when resolving disputes over the ownership of church property, courts must rely “exclusively on objective, well-established concepts of trust and property law familiar to lawyers and judges.”); S.C. Code Ann. § 62-7401(a)(2) (Supp. 2013) (“To be valid, a trust of real property, created by transfer in trust or by declaration of trust, must be proved by some writing signed by the party creating the trust.”); All Saints Parish Waccamaw v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C., 385 S.C. 428, 449, 685 S.E.2d 163, 174 (2009) (“It is an axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another or transfer legal title to one person for the benefit of another.”).


Since it is unpublished, the opinion has no precedential value (i.e., it cannot be cited to any other South Carolina court), but its summary disposition is still a strong indicator of the way the wind blows in South Carolina. The Court found applicable Jones v. Wolf’s holding that state courts may apply traditional concepts of trust and property law in resolving church property cases; a South Carolina statute setting out the legal requirements for a valid trust in the State; and the Supreme Court’s opinion in the All Saints Waccamaw case, which ruled against a similar argument made by ECUSA and the then-EDSC. Taken together, those three authorities are all a court needs to cite in order to find a Dennis-Canon type of claim invalid and of no consequence under South Carolina law.

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