Nuns who allowed activists opposing a natural gas pipeline to build a chapel on their property in protest of a planned easement have now sued the federal agency that approved the pipeline.
The Adorers of the Blood of Christ have sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Pennlive.com reported Wednesday. An agency spokeswoman said the commission doesn't comment on pending litigation.
The nuns contend the pipeline violates their sincerely held belief in "the sacredness of Earth" and are suing under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The act is perhaps best known for the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that enabled the Christian-owned Hobby Lobby chain to be exempt from a federal mandate to offer contraceptives as part of its employee health care plans.
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"It's clear they take seriously their belief that the Earth is God's creation and it needs to be protected and preserved," the nuns' attorney, J. Dwight Yoder, said.
In a separate court action, the nuns face a Lancaster County Court hearing Thursday on Williams Natural Gas' efforts to condemn and seize an easement through the land.
The nuns have previously let the activist group Lancaster Against Pipelines build an outdoor chapel on part of the proposed pipeline easement that runs through a cornfield tended by a farmer who leases the tract from the nuns.
Chris Stockton, a spokesman for Williams Natural Gas Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, said the company has offered to pay more than the appraised value to use the property. Williams has settled with nearly all the 1,000 landowners affected by the 200-mile, $3 billion pipeline that will carry Marcellus Shale natural gas, he said.
"The Adorers represent one of less than 30 land owners with whom we have not yet finalized an agreement," Stockton said. The pipeline will be buried 3 to 5 feet underground on the parcel.
"Once the easement is restored, there will be very little evidence that a pipeline is present," Stockton said.
But the nuns said in a written statement that the pipeline "is antithetical to the Adorers' deeply held religious beliefs" spelled out in a "land ethic" the order adopted in 2005. It states the nuns honor nature and cherish land as a "gift of beauty and sustenance and legacy for future generations."
Gas from the pipeline will flow into Williams Natural Gas Transco Pipeline, a project that runs from New York to the Gulf of Mexico.