Amicus Brief Calls for Rehearing in Support of Diocese of South Carolina

Misapplication of neutral principles of law leads to constitutional
conflicts and property rights confusion

COLUMBIA, S.C.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Friday, a diverse group of 106 South Carolina religious leaders,
representing 52 cities and many denominations, filed an amicus
curiae
brief
in the South Carolina Supreme Court supporting the
Petition for Rehearing filed by the Diocese of South Carolina (Diocese)
and 29 parish churches regarding the South Carolina Supreme Court’s
recent ruling in Appellate Case No. 2015-000622. Among the amici
are representatives of Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian, United
Methodist, REC, Nazarene, Holiness and non-denominational churches, as
well as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
The amici are represented by attorneys with Winston & Strawn as
well as Michael
W. McConnell
, who is the Richard and Frances Mallery Professor and
Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, and a
Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The brief addresses the Court’s
misapplication of “neutral principles of law”, which presents both a
serious threat to religious liberty and “leaves this state’s Church
property law in disrepair and confusion.”

Statement by the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis:

“Friday’s brief illustrates well two essential problems with the current
ruling of the Court. Because there is no legal consensus among the
Justices, the ruling as it stands is, as stated in the brief, a “recipe
for endless litigation.” As a consequence of misapplying neutral
principles of law as intended by the U.S. Supreme Court, it violates
rather than preserves, the First Amendment protections of religious
liberty they are meant to ensure. Resolving these significant issues
merits rehearing by the Court.”

The Diocese also provided the following list of additional details
from Friday’s filed
Brief:

  • “For over 300 years, since before the Founding of this Nation, members
    of the Respondent’s congregations contributed land, money and labor in
    reliance on settled South Carolina law – only to have this Court
    divest them of their property based on a canon unilaterally adopted
    centuries later by a national denomination. This outcome was possible
    only because the Court fashioned a new rule of law solely for this
    case, and this denomination. But that rule of law departs from this
    court’s precedents and imposes special burdens on religious
    associations relative to secular ones. Those burdens violate the First
    Amendment.” [p. 1]
  • Amici believe strongly that churches freely associated with
    each other can also freely choose to disassociate. And the exercise of
    that freedom should not come at the price of the tools for ministry
    established by local sacrifice… ” [p. 4]
  • “… the Court’s fractured decision leaves church property law in this
    state in utter confusion…. This confusion is a recipe for endless
    litigation.” [p. 2]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Jones vs. Wolf established
    the use of neutral principles of law to settle church property
    disputes… “A court applying a neutral principles approach can only
    apply state law as it normally would; any other approach would be the
    opposite of neutral principles.” [p. 9]
  • As the Court has done in this case, “Giving legal effect to trusts
    declared in denominational documents is not even mere deference. It is
    giving denominations power to rewrite civil property law.” [p. 14] and
    that is in violation of the free exercise of religion.
  • “If that conception of “neutral principles” is correct, then no church
    can join a denomination without jeopardizing its property.” [p. 16]
  • “Any denomination could pass a retroactive internal rule that would
    appropriate congregants gifts and church property.” … “Without secure
    property ownership, many rounds of future litigation are inevitable.”
    [p. 18]
  • “If ownership no longer turns on publicly recorded deeds and trust
    instruments, but on the meaning of internal church rules and
    relationships, no one can know for certain who owns church property.”
    [p. 18]
  • “Moreover, the Court’s ruling could eviscerate otherwise clear titles”
    and harm “the rights of insurers and lenders” all with “not a single
    justice agreeing as to exactly how State title and property law apply
    in this dispute.” [p. 19]

From Friday’s release
by Palmetto Family Council

  • A Statement from Senator Chip Campsen:
    “If the Court
    doesn’t rehear this case thousands of my constituents will be stripped
    of churches of immeasurable historic and economic value that they and
    their ancestors built and paid for over the course of three centuries.
    That would be a major blow to property rights, freedom of association
    and religious liberty. Hopefully this brief, authored by foremost
    First Amendment scholars, will persuade the Court to avert that tragic
    outcome.”
  • A Statement from the Palmetto Family Council:
    Erik
    Corcoran, Director of the Nehemiah [Pastor’s] Network at Palmetto
    Family, who shared the amicus opportunity with his network,
    indicated that he was “overjoyed” by the swift unity of the pastors
    and faith leaders. “I thank God that in South Carolina, churches of so
    many denominations can unite for the cause of religious liberty. I
    read about this kind of unity among churches that was present during
    the founding of our nation. They came together in order for us to have
    the liberty and freedom we have today. The spirit of that freedom is
    alive and well in South Carolina,”

    Dr. Gary Hollingsworth,
    Executive Director of the SC Baptist Convention and a passionate
    signatory of the brief, said: “One of the founding principles of our
    nation has been religious freedom and any threat to that freedom is an
    affront to every other freedom. We stand with our Anglican brethren in
    that same spirit.”

    Pastor Jeremy Rivers of Body of Christ
    Overcomer Ministries Church said “Everyone has the right, as I see it,
    to represent Christ and spread the Gospel, and I stand with these
    churches because one day my freedom could be at stake. I have gladly
    signed my name to this brief.”

Contacts

for Diocese of South Carolina
John Hellerman, 202-841-8153
jhellerman@hellermanllc.com
or
Joy
Hunter, 843-696-1757
jhunter@dioceseofsc.org