Several dozen Episcopal churches in the US state of South Carolina are suing the national church over the introduction of gay priests, stating that they should be able to retain property when they leave the church.

The more than 50 churches are calling calling themselves the Diocese of South Carolina, and have been told by the national church that they have to return $500 million (£290 million) in property, reports the AP.

The churches argue that the property belongs to them, as it was paid for by members. The Diocese of South Carolina accuses the national church of being too liberal, especially on issues like same-sex marriage, and the ordination of gay bishops.

Testimony around the structure of the church as a whole began on Tuesday.