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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Asks Supreme Court to Prevent Gov’t From Seizing Nuns' Land, Drilling Pipeline Through Convent Land

Documents

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Adorers of the Blood of Christ, et al. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

WASHINGTON, DC  —The Rutherford Institute is defending a group of Pennsylvania nuns’ right to exercise their religious beliefs in protecting their property against a government-sanctioned campaign to allow a gas pipeline company to drill its way through and desecrate the religious order’s land, which includes a nursing home, convent and a chapel. In an amicus curiae brief, Rutherford Institute attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to restore a lawsuit brought by Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a Catholic community of women, seeking to stop the pipeline as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law intended to protect religious beliefs and practices when threatened by government action. 

“Religious freedom and freedom of conscience are among the most basic and fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood quite clearly that religious freedom is one of the most fundamental human rights,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Under the First Amendment, the government may not deny its citizens the right to freely exercise their religion. These nuns have every right to tell the government and its corporate partners to stay off the convent’s land and respect the nuns’ right to exercise their religious beliefs about the sacredness of God’s creation.”

Adorers of the Blood of Christ is a Roman Catholic religious order of nuns that owns property in Lancaster County, Penn., which is the site for a retirement community for the elderly and a 24-acre tract used to grow agricultural crops. The nuns subscribe to the religious belief that the earth should be honored and preserved as a sacred part of God’s creation. In 2005, the nuns adopted a Land Ethic proclaiming their belief in the “sacredness of all creation” and their commitment to exercise their faith by “striv[ing] to establish justice and right relationships so that all creation might thrive.” They also follow the 2015 encyclical letter issued by Pope Francis, which acknowledges the scientific consensus on the danger of global warming and climate change as a result of the intensive use of fossil fuels by humans, and urges followers to live their lives as “protectors of God’s handiwork.” In March 2015, Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company applied for a FERC certificate to build a new high-capacity natural gas pipeline connecting fracking fields in northern Pennsylvania to an existing pipeline network. The route of the proposed pipeline would run through the nuns’ land. The nuns refused to grant Transcontinental permission to use their land and repeatedly advised Transcontinental that the use of their land for the pipeline would violate their religious beliefs regarding the preservation of the Earth and God’s creation. In February 2017, Transcontinental received government approval to proceed with the pipeline and began the process of taking an easement over Adorers’ land for the pipeline. In response, Adorers sued in federal court claiming that the government’s authorization for the pipeline company to drill on its land imposed a substantial burden on their religious beliefs under RFRA. The courts dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the nuns should have raised their religious freedom claims before FERC. In asking the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court decision, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that RFRA’s assurance of broad legal protection of religious liberty requires the courts to grant the religious order an independent judicial determination of their fundamental right to religious freedom.

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