ST. GEORGE, S.C. — Officials for the Diocese of South Carolina said Friday that they have filed a lawsuit against the Episcopal Church, saying they need to protect their property from the national body.
A statement from the diocese said the lawsuit, filed in South Carolina Circuit Court, also seeks to prevent the Episcopal Church from infringing on the protected marks of the diocese, including its seal and historical names.
“The Episcopal Church has every right to have a presence in the area served by our diocese – but it does not have a right to use our identity. The Episcopal Church must create a new entity,” the Rev. Jim Lewis said.
Spokesman Neva Rae Fox said the Episcopal Church has not received the lawsuit and cannot comment.
The diocese is made up of 71 parishes with about 30,000 members.
The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003, upsetting conservative Episcopalians. In 2006, the Diocese of South Carolina voted to reject the authority of the national church’s presiding bishop but stopped short of a full break with the church.
The schism reached a critical point late last year. The church’s national bishop issued a pastoral letter in October saying the diocese can’t leave the church of its own accord. The diocese then made its break, though 14 churches have decided not to follow the diocese away from the national church.
A disciplinary board said diocesan Bishop Mark Lawrence allowed language in the diocesan corporate charter last year to be changed, saying it would operate under the constitution and canons of the diocese, not the national church.
“Like our Colonial forefathers, we are pursuing the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, not as it is dictated to us by a self-proclaimed religious authority who threatens to take our property unless we relinquish our beliefs,” Lawrence said. “The actions taken by TEC make it clear that such freedom of worship is intolerable to them.”