On Thursday, September 30, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Schmehl issued a decision granting a motion to dismiss filed by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., or Transco, to the Adorers’ request for a hearing and monetary damages under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The development was the latest in the Adorers’ longstanding case against the Oklahoma-based subsidiary of The Williams Companies, Inc. Judge Schmehl concluded that the federal court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
The Adorers, a congregation of Catholic sisters, had challenged in court construction of a gas pipeline on their property in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, saying it conflicts with their strongly held beliefs in the sanctity of the Earth and stewardship of the environment. In 2005, the Adorers created a land ethic that recognizes the sacredness of the land and all of its inhabitants.
The Adorers filed their latest challenge in a civil lawsuit in November, but their legal battle dates back to the summer of 2017, when Transco seized the sisters’ land under eminent domain to build an extension of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. That summer, a cornfield chapel was built on the Adorers’ farm property as an expression of protest against the taking of their land.
Transco had been aware of the Adorers’ religious objections even before seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but completely disregarded the Adorers’ beliefs. The pipeline runs from New York to Texas and has been operating since the fall of 2018. The pipeline transports natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to the Earth’s warming and climate change.
At issue in the case is whether Transco violated the Adorers’ religious beliefs by forcing them to use their own land for Transco’s high-volume fossil fuel pipeline in direct conflict with the Adorers’ religious beliefs and practices.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been used by the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby, among others, to oppose federal mandates they say violate their religious beliefs. Even though the Religious Freedom Restoration Act guarantees the Adorers the right to pursue their claim in court, the judge dismissed the Adorers’ case.
The Adorers of the Blood of Christ are disappointed, but not entirely surprised, in the court‘s ruling. The federal courts consistently protect the profit interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of religious liberties and property rights.
Sister Janet McCann, ASC said Thursday that the congregation plans to meet with the Adorers’ attorneys to determine their next steps.
She cited a quote from theologian and social activist Thomas Merton who said the result of human endeavors is less important than the truth and value of the work itself. “The real hope, then,” Merton wrote, “is not something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.”
The Adorers believe that something good will come out of their ongoing struggle to remain true to their religious beliefs and practices.