Roman Catholic Nuns Says Pipeline Violates Their Religious Beliefs

(CN) – An order of Roman Catholic nuns are suing federal energy regulators, claiming the government’s approval of a gas pipeline passing through the order’s property infringes in their practice of religion.

In a federal complaint filed in Philadelphia on July 14, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ describe themselves as an order whose religious practice includes “protecting and preserving creation.”

In principle these means they see nature as “a revelation of God” and as something that’s “sacredness … must be honored and protected for future generations,” the complaint states.

“The Adorers believe that God calls humans to treasure land as a gift of beauty and sustenance that should not be used in an excessive or harmful way,” it adds.

Which is why, they say, they were so alarmed when on Feb. 3, 2017,  the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the construction and operation of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline for transporting natural gas across multiple states.

The order says the approved pipeline route runs through property owned by the Adorers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and that the government’s granting of an easement to the pipeline’s developers “is antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers.”

“It places a substantial burden on the Adorers’ exercise of religion by taking land owned by the Adorers that they seek to protect and preserve as part of their faith and, instead, using it in a manner and for a purpose that actually places the earth at serious risk,” the complaint states.

The sisters seek a declaration that FERC violated the Religious Freedom Act by approving the easement on their property, and are seeking an injunction to prevent it from running across their property.

They cite a direct connection to the teaching order of St. Maria De Mattias as evidence of their historical commitment to preserving God’s creation. St. Maria established nearly seventy schools dedicated to educating women and girls during the Napoleonic era, according to the complaint. This order eventually spread across the globe, including to Columbia, Pennsylvania, where the dispute lies.

The sisters point to a 2005 “Land Ethic” they adopted as additional proof of their dedication to the “sacredness of all creation.”

The ethic states, “As advocates of Earth, we choose simple lifestyles that avoid excessive or harmful use of natural resource.”

They consider the transport of natural gas, which has been linked to climate change, through their land to be in direct contradiction to this, and therefore an infringement on their religious beliefs.

“We are believers in sustainable energy. These are fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are dangerous to the environment. They are not sustainable,” Sister Janet McCann of the Adorers told the Washington Post.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act states that the “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without proving that said burden would be the “least restrictive means of furthering … governmental interest.”

The sisters say that because FERC “could consider alternative routes,” it is in violation of the RFRA in granting the easement.

The easement was granted to the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company or Transco, a natural gas company. A representative of Tesco did not return calls requesting comment.

The sisters are represented by attorney J. Dwight Yoder of Gibbel Kraybill Hess in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

A representative of the defendant commission was not immediately available for comment.

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