Judge Strives to Avoid ‘Entanglement’ in Case of Dueling SC Churches

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – A federal judge on Monday granted motions to expand a trademark infringement and false advertising lawsuit the pits the Episcopal Church against a breakaway group known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina.

In a 12-page order, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel granted the Episcopal Church’s request to expand the litigants to includes the Diocese of South Carolina and all of the parishes that associate with it.

The case is currently expected to go to trial in September.

The dispute arose in 2013, after the Episcopal Church removed the Right Rev. Mark Lawrence as bishop and replaced him with the Right Rev. Charles vonRosenberg. Lawrence denies he was removed his post, and instead contends that the Diocese of South Carolina withdrew from the Episcopal Church.

But Gergel declined to enforce an earlier state court ruling that called for Lawrence to return Episcopal Church property and to remove property trustees that the church claimed were not performing their duties.

“Telling 28 congregations whom they may or may not elect to their respective parish vestries would foster judicial entanglement with religion,”  Gergel wrote.

He stated a better forum of enforcement of the court’s decision concerning the properties is the Dorchester County Circuit Court where the properties have been in litigation for the past five years.

Gergel also suggested that a better solution would be for The Episcopal Church to take legal possession of the parish property rather than ask the federal court to assist in management of the properties.

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