What a recent ruling says about church property disputes.
The South Carolina Supreme Court has reached a split ruling in a case involving a breakaway diocese of the Episcopal Church, stating that the now-separate diocese will not be able to keep the historic properties it tried to claim from the denomination—properties worth around $500 million.
The diocese seceded from the Episcopal Church in 2012 “over stances on homosexuality and other scriptural issues,” according to Christianity Today.
In addition to the church properties, the diocese “sued in efforts to protect its identity, the diocesan seal, and other symbols it uses,” according to AP. While a judge had ruled in favor of the diocese in 2014, yesterday’s decision declared that the judge “had viewed the Episcopal Church incorrectly as a congregational entity, with no structure to prevent individual parishes from leaving . . . the church is a hierarchical organization, with a structure.”
AP also reports that “[e]ach of the court’s five justices wrote individual opinions, a rare move that shows the different viewpoints in the complex case” and that while the diocese cannot keep the historic properties, the “[j]ustices split 2-2 on intellectual property issues, leaving in place the trial judge’s ruling that the breakaway diocese could keep the Diocese of South Carolina name, marks, and seals.”
To read more about this case, see in-depth reports from Christianity Today and Religion Clause. To learn more about church property disputes (now the number-one reason churches go to court), check out our Legal Library.
Emily Lund is Assistant Editor for Church Law & Tax.