RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment
Print

Jenkins writes: "A group of Pennsylvania Catholic nuns are suing to protect their land from potential pipeline construction using an unusual legal argument: religious liberty, specifically a version popularized by right-wing Christians."

A rosary lays across a bible. (photo: iStock)
A rosary lays across a bible. (photo: iStock)


Nuns Are Suing to Stop a Pipeline - Because They Believe the Earth Is Sacred

By Jack Jenkins, ThinkProgress

18 July 17


A win could change the way environmentalists fight pipelines.

group of Pennsylvania Catholic nuns are suing to protect their land from potential pipeline construction using an unusual legal argument: religious liberty, specifically a version popularized by right-wing Christians.

As the Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer reported over the weekend, a group of nuns in Columbia, Pennsylvania are fighting to stave off the construction of a natural gas pipeline across land they own. Williams Companies, the company in charge of the The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, initially tried to negotiate with the nuns, but turned to more extreme measures after talks broke down. Now, the company is attempting to seize the land through eminent domain, forcing the matter into court.

In response, the nuns — who belong to the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a religious institute with a strong environmentalist bent — have erected a chapel directly in the projected path of the pipeline. They say that if the court sides against them, they are prepared to hold a constant protest vigil at the site until Williams Companies backs off.

“This just goes totally against everything we believe in — we believe in sustenance of all creation,” Linda Fischer, one of the nuns, told the Washington Post.

But the Adorers are bringing something relatively new, and potentially groundbreaking, to the environmentalist cause: a legal claim that building a pipeline on their land violates their rights under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) — the same law often cited by right-wing conservatives.

The sisters, who cite Pope Francis’ famously passionate defense of the environment as inspiration, are hardly the first faith group to fight pipeline construction. Religious coalitions have been championing environmentalism for years. They’re not even the first group of U.S. nuns to make national news for trying to stop a pipeline; that mantle belongs to the Sisters of Loretto, who successfully defeated attempts to build the Bluegrass Pipeline across their Kentucky land back in 2014.

But the Adorers are bringing something relatively new, and potentially groundbreaking, to the environmentalist cause: a legal claim that building a pipeline on their land violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — the same law often cited by right-wing conservatives.

In their complaint filed in federal last Friday, the Adorers explain their faith is rooted in a “deeply held religious belief” that creation “is a revelation of God, the sacredness of which must be honored and protected for future generations.”

“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,” the complaint reads. It goes on to note that the sisters adopted a “land ethic” in 2005 that proclaims “the sacredness of all creation,” and that building a pipeline would “substantially burden” their ability to “use and protect their land as part of God’s creation” — something explicitly prohibited under RFRA.

The origins of the nuns’ legal framework are rooted in the 2014 Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, when the craft store giant successfully used RFRA to seek a faith-based exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. The court decision greatly expanded the scope and impact of RFRA, a divisive shift that was celebrated by many conservatives but widely criticized by progressives. Others saw an opportunity: As ThinkProgress first reported in December 2016, at least one scholar who focuses on sacred land disputes between Native Americans and the federal government began suggesting RFRA as a legal mechanism for environmental fights in February 2015.

It wasn’t until February 2017, however, that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe finally used the argument to file a legal request for a temporary restraining order to stop construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The tribe insisted oil from the pipeline would “desecrate” waters they use for religious practices “and therefore substantially burden the free exercise of their religion.”

The effort was short-lived. The judge ultimately rejected their request, ruling that since the tribe was concerned about the oil — which would not flow for weeks — and not the pipeline itself, the situation didn’t merit a temporary restraining order because it did not present an “imminent” threat to their faith. The tribe filed an appeal a month later, but Jan Hasselman, a lead attorney in the ongoing Dakota Access case, told ThinkProgress the effort has since been dismissed.

By contrast, the nuns’ claim is a bit of an easier — or at least less complicated — sell than the one made in the Dakota Access Pipeline case. Unlike the advocates in Standing Rock, for instance, they appear to privately own the land where the pipeline is projected to cross.

Nevertheless, winning a case like this — which some say could reach as high as the U.S. Supreme Court — could bolster future claims by Native Americans and any number of faith groups fighting to rebuke construction efforts on land they deem sacred. Writers are already popularizing the idea as a potential tool for Native Americas, especially since indigenous cultures in North America and Polynesia typically view environmental issues as inherently religious.

Alternatively, a win for the nuns could have the opposite impact for Native Americans. Because many Native American sacred land disputes involve land that is government owned, a favorable decision could weaken their legal claims.

Time will tell how the nuns’ case will be resolved, but one thing is certain: they’re not going down without a (spiritual) fight.


e-max.it: your social media marketing partner
 

Comments   

A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

 
+12 # dotlady 2017-07-18 10:28
Of course many Native lands are in U.S. government hands but not "owned" in the sense that they were justifiably purchased by a fair and voluntary agreement of equals. More like taken by "eminent domain" as we call government land-grabbing today.
 
 
+7 # tedrey 2017-07-18 11:17
I believe the government theoretically holds many Native American lands "in trust" for the tribes concerned. How much they can be "trusted" is another question.
 
 
+5 # futhark 2017-07-18 10:48
Quoting God's handbook, the Bible:

Psalm 24:1 - "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein."

The question to Fundamentalist Christian Trump supporters then is whose side are you on, the secular Republican Party's or your Lord and Savior's?
 
 
+4 # ericlipps 2017-07-18 10:49
"Eminent domain" has always been an abusive practice, never more so than when it has been used by a government to seize property for the purposes of private citizens or businesses. Essentially, the government says, "We're taking your land; now here's what we think is a fair payment for it. Take it or leave it."
 
 
+5 # boomerjim 2017-07-18 11:06
I don't know about the earth being sacred, but faced with fossil-fuel extraction and pipelines, the populations of the earth should be scared.
 
 
+3 # Wise woman 2017-07-18 12:31
Yea for these nuns. How any so called Christian could justify defacing, poisoning or otherwise destroying, contaminating or rendering useless God's, Goddesses or the Creators creation is beyond comprehension and totally for their own benefit and greed. As it states in Genesis, when God looked down on bis creation, he said that it was " good." How can any of these people justify their actions against God's goodness? In addition, the US government stole sacred lands from Native Peoples over and over and broke almost every treaty it ever signed with these land protectors. Shame on us.
 
 
+5 # Adoregon 2017-07-18 13:15
Go sisters!! The Earth IS sacred.
 
 
+4 # Femihumanist 2017-07-18 16:22
This is GREAT!! The analogy to DAPL and sacred land is unforgettable.

If anyone remembers "Lilies of the Field," perhaps a filmmaker or playwright among us should do a follow-up; Schmitt's (Historian? Agronomist? Environmentalis t? Whatever?) grandson returns to help the nuns keep what grandpa built, of course with a more 2017s slant.
 

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.

RSNRSN