Federal Judge Dismisses Case Against Bishop Mark Lawrence

Posted by Kendall Harmon

U.S. District Court Judge Weston C. Houck today dismissed a federal trademark lawsuit filed by Episcopal Church Bishop Charles vonRosenberg against Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina Mark Lawrence.

The decision acknowledges the authority of the Circuit Court of South Carolina to decide the rightful owner of the names, symbols and property of the Diocese of South Carolina.

“The sum of all disputes and conflicts arising in the wake of the Diocese’s estrangement from [the Episcopal Church] are more appropriately before, and will more comprehensively be resolved, in South Carolina state court,” stated Judge Houck in the order dismissing Bishop vonRosenberg’s lawsuit and denying his motion for an injunction to prohibit Bishop Lawrence from acting as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.

Read it all. [more South Carolina Links here]

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: South Carolina* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal Issues

35 Comments
Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:21 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. freihofercook wrote:

Good news, although in one battle in a long drawn out unnecessary and terribly costly war.

August 23, 6:32 pm | [comment link]
2. Sarah1 wrote:

Fabulous news—many of us in DUSC will be thrilled. We’re rooting for you!

August 23, 6:47 pm | [comment link]
3. Ralph wrote:

To me, Bp. vonRosenberg’s filing of a federal lawsuit against a brother bishop is both shameful and hateful. It comes across to me as a manifestation of evil.

We shall continue to observe how this tree bears fruit, as will the rest of the Christian world.

God’s watching, too.

I pray for Bp. vonRosenberg, that God will open his eyes…that he might see his errors, repent, ask forgiveness, and be forgiven. Amen.

August 23, 6:50 pm | [comment link]
4. Milton Finch wrote:

My question is did they remand this till the end of the case when Judge Houck will take it up again, or did he just throw it out saying it would totally be handled in the state court?  Wonderful news, though.

August 23, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
5. Cennydd13 wrote:

This is indeed good news, and I’m sure that many of us here in the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin will agree.  +Lawrence and DioSC are in my prayers.

August 23, 7:23 pm | [comment link]
6. Katherine wrote:

It sounds, in this report, as if it was dismissed, not just delayed pending the result of the state court case.  Outstanding!

August 23, 7:33 pm | [comment link]
7. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

It would wise perhaps for Mrs Jefferts Schori to spend the night in the kennel with the dog until the storm passes.

Hurrah for the wonderful Diocese of South Carolina and its bishop.  Thanks be to God.

August 23, 7:56 pm | [comment link]
8. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

I see Allan Haley now has an analysis out here and on Standfirm which clarifies that the Judge granted Bishop Lawrence’s motion to dismiss rather than reserving the matter pending the State Court decision, so it looks like it will all be handled in the State Court and not be returning to Federal Court.  Obergruppenführer von Rosenberg’s attempt to circumvent the State Courts seems to have crashed and burned.

August 23, 8:33 pm | [comment link]
9. tjmcmahon wrote:

The decision is indeed quite clear- the final decision will be made by the courts of the State of South Carolina. (We can be virtually certain that whatever decision is reached in the current proceedings will be appealed by TEC until such time as there is a ruling by the SC Supreme Court.)  The end is still a long, long way off, but this decision is certainly favorable to the cause of the Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Lawrence.
Thanks be to God.
And let us continue to pray for our brethren in S Carolina, and the other places suffering under the litigious wrath of TEC.

August 23, 9:20 pm | [comment link]
10. CSeitz-ACI wrote:

The Texas Supreme Court posts its orders on Fridays at 9 CST. We understand it is likely to rule any week now. Judges in both Texas and Quincy appear to be quite able, as was Judge Houck, to understand that use of the word ‘hierarchy’ says nothing about the ‘national church’ or Dennis Canon. At issue is in what specific sense the term may be used, and how does one understand the variety of denominational polities abroad in the US, especially when it comes to property. It has taken a lot of hard work but the rough-and-ready categories of ‘congregational’ and ‘hierarchical’ are now being placed on a much more rigorous and thought-through grid. Judges are coming up to speed.

August 24, 2:37 am | [comment link]
11. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

I’m not suprised by Judge Houck’s decision, but I’m pleased with it nonetheless.  His dismissal of the absurd TEC trademark case is fully in line with his earlier ruling, but it’s still a welcome victory for the good guys in the white hats.  In the legal system you can’t take anything for granted (as we in VA painfully learned with Judge Randy Bellows in Fairfax and the VA Supreme Court).

For those who haven’t noticed, The Falls Church in northern VA has filed (or at least decided to file, I’m not sure which) an appeal with the US Spreme Court.  It’s a longshot, but I certainly hope that SCOTUS agrees to take the case.

Thanks be to God.

David Handy+

August 24, 12:59 pm | [comment link]
12. Charles52 wrote:

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what in the Constitution of the United States authorizes a court or legislature to determine ecclesiology.

What is the name on the deed? Has the entity named on the deed transferred effective ownership to another party (in this case, TEC)? Absent documentation of the second question, why does the first not control?

August 24, 2:03 pm | [comment link]
13. wmresearchtrianglenc wrote:

A comment and a question.

From a legal standpoint, the mantra oft-invoked by TEC to the effect that only individuals have the freedom to depart from a current association the individual may have with TEC appears sloppily-formulated and a particularly inept TEC mantras. In the first place, an individual may be a member of a parish or similar entity that is affiliated with TEC but how many individuals are directly affiliated with the national entity known as TEC in the absence of a relationship with a parish or similar entity? This mantra seems to be designed to obscure the real issues involved when entities associated with TEC exercise the freedom to what I prefer to call “stand apart from TEC”. A prime example of such an issue is the legal status of the the so-called Dennis Canon, something clearly designed as a type of legal bootstrap that would deter the freedom that dioceses incorporated in a state would actually have with regard to standing apart from TEC.

Thus, my question. I would imagine that the dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy were all incorporated in the state appropriate to each individual diocese (i.e., California, Pennsylvania, etc.) before each Diocese exercised a decision to stand apart from TEC. However, it would be reassuring to know the actual situation with regard to incorporation in the case of each of these dioceses.

August 26, 3:31 pm | [comment link]
14. Luke wrote:

First I’ve heard that the so-called “Dennis Canon” had anything to do with a diocese’s ability to leave ECUSA.
I thought it only purports to address ownership of property between a parish and a diocese.

August 26, 3:48 pm | [comment link]
15. Milton Finch wrote:

That is true, Luke.  It only goes so far as the parish and the diocese.  At will associations are not covered by the Dennis Canon.  Even that canon carries no weight in SC for the church and the diocese.  Hard to put a trust on something when both parties have not placed pen to paper on both sides of a disputed property.

August 26, 4:28 pm | [comment link]
16. wmresearchtrianglenc wrote:

14. Luke, although the Dennis Canon does concern the purported imposition of a trust with regard to properties, it’s my understanding that such a trust is purportedly for the benefit of TEC, not merely for the the benefit of individual dioceses. If the Dennis Canon purportedly imposed a trust on properties merely for the benefit of individual dioceses of TEC and not for the benefit of TEC itself, TEC would have put in place a provision that clearly gives an individual diocesan full discretion in individual cases with regard to trusts of property. Regardless, the focus of my previous comment concerns the incorporation of individual dioceses and how that relates to principles relating to the free exercise of religion under the Constitution and neutral principles of law.

August 26, 5:06 pm | [comment link]
17. Luke wrote:

1. Especially given the slapdash and highly questionable creation of the Dennis “Canon,” I feel your first point is unsupported conjecture.
2. Probably picking at nits, which I will not do further, but your second point may well be what you say it is, but your expression of it seems to lack clarity.
It’s moot now, given SC’s adjudications, past and probable future, and given the state of the other suits in Texas, California and Illinois.
It is highly unlikely there will be any more suits of these types filed from either side - the two positions are clearly now established: No more orthodox bishops willing to stand up for Christ’s Word, hence no more targets for ECUSA.
The split is, in essence, now complete. Only the details need to be worked out in these few instances, as there is nothing new likely to come into play that will have any impact anywhere.

August 27, 6:15 am | [comment link]
18. CSeitz-ACI wrote:

#17. If the SCOT upholds the position of Ft Worth, the chessboard will again be overturned. There are plenty of other dioceses in the state, and a Supreme Court ruling in TX could indeed ripple throughout TEC. “...there is nothing new likely to come into play that will have any impact anywhere.”

August 27, 6:40 am | [comment link]
19. wmresearchtrianglenc wrote:

#17. Luke—Your post, apparently in response to my post, appears to display a distinct negativism (e.g., “unsupported conjecture”) and it may be likely that you are more interested in expressing a viewpoint than engaging in a dialogue on a specific point or points. In your initial post you clearly failed to indicate you had any understanding of the necessary role of beneficiaries of trusts. You’ve also made a critical remark with regard to clarity concerning a question I raised and I’ll make a specific comment on that bur make no further comments addressed to you regarding your posts.

1. TEC has frequently stated (I referred to such as a mantra) that only individuals may in effect separate from TEC and, most importantly, adding that entities (parishes, dioceses) MAY NOT. I attempted to indicate that TEC’s statement is, in essence, full of holes because individuals aren’t directly connected to TEC anyway since individuals are connected to a parish church (or cathedral) and thus one step removed from TEC specifically. Thus, the purpose of TEC’s fuzzy statement may have served the purpose of creating an impression in some minds that something is actually true—that parishes and dioceses are barred from separating from TEC—something which is in actuality questionable and is clearly the subject of legal disputes. In my opinion, your negative remark regarding “unsupported conjecture” displays little attention to actual positions taken by TEC in legal matters in which it’s been involved.

2. My question involving incorporation of dioceses that have stood apart of separated from TEC was based on attempting to know some facts regarding the incorporation of those dioceses under state law. That’s clearly a technical point, however, an interesting one to me because that’s specifically involved in the litigation in South Carolina. You’re obviously convinced that TEC has no more orthodox bishops to target, that no more suits will likely be filed, and, as you’ve stated, matters, involving dioceses separated from TEC are essentially “set” from legal standpoint. I believe your display of negativism in these matters is unwarranted and inaccurate, not because I believe it’s desirable for more suits to be filed by “either side” or because I have some superior knowledge involving these matters, but because, like others, I believe there’s some reason to expect other results than we’ve seen to date from some litigation. I sense that some points are beginning to be more examined, understood, and appreciated by courts involved in litigation of this type.

August 27, 11:44 am | [comment link]
20. Luke wrote:

I bow to your superior knowledge.

August 28, 5:31 am | [comment link]
21. WestJ wrote:

Hopefully, if Judge Goldstein rules that The Diocese of South Carolina (Bishop Lawrence) has the right to disassociate from TEC, it will bring down the house of cards that TEC has constructed. I believe that TEC is terrified that this will happen and will fight with all its might to prevent this from happening. I am no lawyer, but from what I can gather from the Anglican Curmudgeon there is no direct canon law that prevents a diocese from leaving.

August 28, 9:55 am | [comment link]
22. Luke wrote:

This would work in SC, but the relevant laws are different there than they are CA, TX, IL, etc.
Given where the suits are in those jurisdictions, I do not anticipate a SC victory having much impact elsewhere, except to possibly, in effect, cause ECUSA to stop their efforts in new jurisdictions.
The thing is, there aren’t any other ECUSA bishops outside of these jurisdictions who care about ECUSA’s tactics. At least, if there are, they have not surfaced in the past year or longer.

August 28, 4:14 pm | [comment link]
23. Cennydd13 wrote:

Or if there are any, they’re keeping quiet for fear of risking KJS’ displeasure…..and we all know what that means.

August 29, 9:15 am | [comment link]
24. SC blu cat lady wrote:

#22, Luke, I agree.  Property law differs in nearly every state and that was one fact attorney friends pointed out to me several years ago. Also, it was pointed out to me that it would be very unlikely that SCOTUS would take a property case as that is an area of law usually left to the states because of varying state laws. I don’t know about other Dioceses but the Diocese of SC has been an incorporated entity for quite some time. This is not under dispute. What *is* under dispute is which *faction* is entitled to use the name now that one diocese has split into two with the majority revoking our accession to TEC’s canons and constitution.  The TEc remnant still believes they are *the* Diocese of SC yet they are not incorporated under that name under SC law. That is real matter before Judge Goodstein.

August 29, 6:08 pm | [comment link]
25. Milton Finch wrote:

Looking over at the Episcopal News Site, I noticed this story about clergy removed posted today.  Notice where the story is from…“the Diocese OF South Carolina” 
Is this true?  Did the Diocese OF
South Carolina put this story out or was it done by the diocese IN SC?

Copied and pasted in full follows below.
[Diocese of South Carolina press release] More than 100 South Carolina clergy have been notified that they have been removed from the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church and are “deprived of the right to exercise… the gifts and spiritual authority conferred in ordination.”
“Notice of Removal” letters signed by the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg, Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, were issued this week to individuals who are “canonically resident” in the diocese, meaning they are under the authority of Bishop vonRosenberg within The Episcopal Church.
Many of those affected by the removal have publicly announced that they are no longer affiliated with the Church, and have aligned themselves with a breakaway group led by Mark Lawrence. Bishop Lawrence was removed from the ordained ministry in December 2012, and is no longer recognized as a bishop in The Episcopal Church.
In the hope of an eventual reconciliation, Bishop vonRosenberg exercised an option available to him under the Constitution and Canons of the Church, and “released and removed” the affected clergy, rather than allowing them to be “deposed” on the grounds of abandonment of the church.
While both actions result in the loss of authority to act as ordained ministers, being released and removed allows options for a person to return to the ministry of The Episcopal Church, something that would be more difficult for clergy who have been deposed.
All the affected clergy were sent a “Notice of Restriction” at the end of June, informing them that they were restricted from acting as ordained ministers. The Standing Committee voted June 21 to determine that the clergy had abandoned the church, triggering the restriction. At that point, the restricted clergy had 60 days “to transmit to the Bishop a retraction or denial, indicating your intention to abide by the promises made at ordination.” Those promises include the declaration, “I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.”
The Bishop could have allowed the 60 days to expire, and clergy who had not responded would have been deposed. Instead, on August 13 the Standing Committee held a special meeting and unanimously approved the Bishop’s recommendation for removal. Under Title IV, Canon 16 (B), Section 4 of The Canons of The Episcopal Church, the action required the advice and consent of the Standing Committee.
The Notice of Removal specifically states that the Bishop “is satisfied that no previous irregularity or misconduct is involved” and that the removal is “for causes which do not affect the person’s moral character.”
Bishop vonRosenberg and members of the Standing Committee have expressed sadness that the removal of clergy became necessary. The Bishop attempted to contact all the clergy of the diocese beginning in April, sending letters by certified mail and offering to meet with them personally to talk about their decision to either remain with The Episcopal Church or separate from it. The majority of the clergy in the breakaway group have chosen not to respond to the letters.
To assist the public in identifying priests and deacons who continue to be part of The Episcopal Church in this region of South Carolina, a list of Clergy in Good Standing is available on the diocesan website.

August 30, 1:59 pm | [comment link]
26. Milton Finch wrote:

Chasing down the link provided over at the ENS, it is from the IN SC crowd, but the 815 institution is still breaking the law.

August 30, 2:06 pm | [comment link]
27. Milton Finch wrote:

Here is the blog page where the story is found:

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/category/ens-blog/

August 30, 2:24 pm | [comment link]
28. Milton Finch wrote:

They changed it.

August 30, 4:37 pm | [comment link]
29. Cennydd13 wrote:

Is the Dennis Canon worthless?  Yes, but TEC says that it isn’t. The Episcopal Church’s decision to enact and enforce the Dennis Canon was never actually published and received by all parishes, and during the entire 15+ years of my tenure as a delegate to the Diocese of El Camino Real Annual Convention beginning in 1976, I never once heard of the Dennis Canon nor its titular name, nor did I ever see any evidence of its so-called “passage.”

September 2, 2:19 pm | [comment link]
30. SC blu cat lady wrote:

Cennydd, NO one else did either!!! That caught the chancellor for the Diocese of SC by surprise when All Saints made their move against the diocese.

September 10, 8:39 am | [comment link]
31. SC blu cat lady wrote:

#3 Ralph, Totally agree- a lawsuit against a brother bishop is just incredibly awful and shall I say *sinful*? I remember when Bishop Lawrence mentioned it in his address to our annual convention back in March of this year. He called it “a self-contradictory move” as the TEC faction (via their attorney, Thomas Tisdale) had agreed to NOT use the names and marks of the diocese! He was probably baffled by the lawsuit and saddened by it as well. I know I was.

September 10, 8:44 am | [comment link]
32. cseitz wrote:

Victory in Quincy. Story to follow soon. Judge rules that TEC lacks explicit documentation for ‘hierarchy’ claims.

September 10, 11:42 am | [comment link]
33. Milton Finch wrote:

Thanks be to God!

September 10, 12:26 pm | [comment link]
34. Cennydd13 wrote:

With the positive decisions in DioSC, DioFW, and now ADQ, the ball’s starting to roll, Milton.

September 10, 4:26 pm | [comment link]
35. Milton Finch wrote:

Yes, Cenny!  And snowballs only get faster and larger.

September 10, 8:41 pm | [comment link]
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