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Trump Can Protect Nuns’ Religious Liberty by Rerouting PA Pipeline

Donald Trump makes a big show of his commitment to (if not his actual legislative plan for) “religious liberty.”

Some Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania could use his help to stop the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline from infringing on their religious liberty:

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” [Lowell Neumann Nickey, “Roman Catholic Nuns Say Pipeline Violates Their Religious Beliefs,” Courthouse News, 2017.07.19].

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline on February 3, a month after the Obama FERC issued its final environmental impact statement and days after Trump’s executive order to “streamline and expedite… environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects,” especially pipelines. Transco, a branch of Williams, has sued to use eminent domain to seize private property along the approved pipeline route.

The Adorers respond that they can’t freely practice their religion of care for the Earth when the Trump Administration lets pipeliners force their fossil-fuel infrastructure across their convent. They are thus suing under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be allowed to practice what they preach:

Of particular importance to the instant matter is the Adorers’ deep religious conviction that the earth is part of God’s creation. In 2005, the Adorers adopted a Land Ethic proclaiming the sacredness of all creation according to their religious beliefs….

This belief compels the Adorers to exercise their religious beliefs by, inter alia, caring for and protecting the land they own as well as actively educating and engaging on issues related to the environment, including the current and future impact on the Earth caused by global warming as the result of the use of fossil fuels.

…The Adorers’ intentional decision on how to use (or not use) and manage the land they own is an integral part of exercising their well established and deeply held religious beliefs as active and engaged stewards of God’s earth.

The use of the Property for a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the Adorers’ religious practices and beliefs… [Adorers of the Blood of Christ v. FERC, Complaint, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Case #5:17-cv-03163-JLS, 2017.07.14].

Atlantic Sunrise was the last project approved by the FERC before a resignation led to three empty seats on the five-member panel. Trump didn’t nominate replacements to restore a quorum until May, and you know how good his Republican Senate has been about getting things done lately.

If Donald Trump is serious about protecting religious freedom, he could intervene on behalf of these Catholic nuns and issue an executive order telling FERC (once it is requorumed) to tell Transco to route its pipeline around the convent. That’s a small price to pay for religious freedom, right, Dear Leader?


  1. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-07-21

    Obama rejected Keystone XL, which surely heartened the PA sisters, but he did not intervene on the Atlantic Sunshine Pipeline.

  2. Robert McTaggart 2017-07-21

    Unfortunately, if they interact at all with the modern economy, they are dependent on fossil fuels for the manufacture or delivery of said goods. Unclear whether they would use the natural gas from said pipeline or not to heat or power their facilities (i.e. electricity from the grid or for heat).

    Property rights are likely better ground for them in this case. But if building the pipeline through a different route is more expensive, and those costs are passed onto consumers, is that a good outcome for those consumers who are poor?

    Or are they willing to pay what is necessary (and/or work with utilities and government) to reduce the latter’s energy costs with renewable energy?

  3. Robert McTaggart 2017-07-21

    Improving the energy efficiency of impacted homes would also be OK to reduce the impact of higher energy bills.

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