Lawyers for the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, U.S. Region, a congregation of Catholic Sisters, will argue their case at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, before a three-judge panel in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, in a religious freedom lawsuit they have filed against Williams/Transco Pipeline and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The pipeline company is using eminent domain to force a fossil fuel pipeline through farmland the Sisters own in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Adorers have a deep and longstanding commitment to safeguard the sanctity of the Earth. They actively seek to reduce reliance on climate-destroying fossil fuels, and strongly oppose environmentally destructive practices such as hydraulic fracturing. As such, the forced installation of a fossil fuel project on their own land represents a gross violation of their deeply held religious convictions.

These arguments will be used to determine whether the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania appropriately dismissed the Sisters’ religious freedom challenge in 2017 for lack of jurisdiction to hear the case. If the three-judge appeals panel rules in favor of the Adorers on this jurisdictional matter, the case would be remanded to the District Court for consideration on the merits of their religious freedom challenge, which the Sisters believe to be clear and well-founded.

The Sisters will hold a press conference immediately following Friday’s arguments in the Kirby Auditorium of the National Constitution Center, located at 525 Arch Street, just one block from the courthouse. The media and the public are welcome to attend both the oral arguments and the press conference.


Background:

The Adorers are an international community of Roman Catholic women founded in Italy in 1834. They came to the United States in 1870, establishing their ministry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1925. They’ve maintained an active ministry there ever since.

The Adorers adhere to a “Land Ethic” that the order adopted in 2005, which proclaims, in part: “As Adorers, we honor the sacredness of all creation. … As prophets, we reverence Earth as a sanctuary where all life is protected; we strive to establish justice and right relationships so that all creation may thrive. …” As a matter of religious practice and belief, the Adorers intentionally use their land in a manner that does not harm the Earth.

The Adorers have a long history of defending the environment as a matter of religious principle. Furthermore, the 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis entitled, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, places environmental stewardship squarely within the Roman Catholic theological tradition.

For these reasons, the Adorers, for the past three years, have resisted plans by Williams/Transco to install a high-volume, fracked gas pipeline on their rural, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania property that would facilitate climate change and harm the Earth, in direct contravention of their religious beliefs. Despite the Adorers’ steadfast refusal to sign an easement through their land, Williams ignored their religious objections and proceeded with plans to run the pipeline through their property. Williams then condemned the Adorers’ property in order to force the Adorers to use their own land for Williams’ pipeline.

In July 2017, the Sisters filed a civil rights challenge against both the pipeline company and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, invoking the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Adorers’ claim argues that installation of a fossil fuel pipeline on their own property, against their will, constitutes a violation of their deeply held religious convictions with respect to the sanctity of the Earth. After U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl ruled that Williams/Transco could seize the Sisters’ land by eminent domain, their pending religious freedom case notwithstanding, the Sisters sought an injunction against Williams until their case could be heard in court. That request was denied. Williams/Transco responded to the Sisters’ continued opposition to the pipeline by repeatedly threatening legal action, enforcement by the U.S. Marshals Service, and even incarceration if they dared to interfere with construction activity on their own land.

In fact, the company altered its construction schedule in order to begin pipeline installation on the Adorers’ land before every other right-of-way in Lancaster County in a bald attempt to insulate themselves against a future legal victory for the Sisters.

Williams/Transco’s legal briefs have dared to question the sincerity of the Sisters’ defense of the Earth, dismissing their professed convictions as a “subjective religious experience.”

Such profit-driven hostility toward religion is precisely why Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Sisters welcome supporters to attend Friday’s arguments, as well as a press conference they’ll hold immediately after the court proceedings.


Details:

Friday, Jan. 19, 2018 at 9 a.m.

James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse

19th Floor, Albert Branson Maris Courtroom

601 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106

 

* Press Conference to Immediately Follow *

Kirby Auditorium, National Constitution Center

525 Arch Street, Philadelphia