- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina court has ruled that the Diocese of South Carolina and its parish churches are the owners of their property, not The Episcopal Church.

In a decision handed down Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein wrote that the diocese and its churches are “the owners of their real, personal and intellectual property.”

Goodstein wrote that The Episcopal Church “has no legal, beneficial or equitable interest” in the diocese and its property.

The ruling marks the latest development in the acrimonious split between the two factions.

In 2012, the conservative Diocese of South Carolina separated from the more liberal national Episcopal Church over a variety of theological issues. The breakaway churches sued to protect the use of the diocesan name and half a billion dollars’ worth of property.

“The decision protects our freedom to embrace the faith Anglicans have practiced for hundreds of years - and not the new theology being imposed on TEC’s dwindling membership,” said Jim Lewis, counsel to the bishop.

Officials from The Episcopal Church didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday night.

Nearly two years ago, about 50 conservative Episcopal churches in the diocese split with the national church amid differences over the authority of Scripture and its allowing the ordination of gays.

The seceding diocese, in the eastern part of the state, then went to court to protect the use of the diocesan name - the Diocese of South Carolina - symbols of the diocese, and title to the property it controls.

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