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Pennsylvania Nuns Push Back Against Judge’s Decision on TransCo Pipeline Lawsuit

— October 19, 2021

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ religious order are challenging a judge’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit against the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co LLC.

A handful of Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania are not happy about the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co LLC’s decision to build a pipeline through Allentown, so much so that they filed a lawsuit claiming the pipeline “defiled the sacred nature of their property in eastern Pennsylvania.” A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the nuns, who belong to the Adorers of the Blood of Christ order, are challenging the judge’s decision.

Person walking on a pipeline
Person walking on a pipeline; image courtesy of Free-Photos via Pixabay,

According to the nuns, the construction of a “section of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline on their land in Lancaster County violates their religious practice under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” As a result, they are asking the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to look into the September ruling that dismissed their suit.

The Adorers first filed their lawsuit against Transcontinental last year. They argued that the pipeline, “which was built and put into service in 2018, substantially burden(s) their exercise of religion.” The particular religious order, which first began work in Pennsylvania in 1925, believes in “protecting God’s creation by preserving the environment for future generations.” As a result, they “have been fighting climate change following a call by Pope Francis in a 2015 encyclical letter for the world’s then 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight.”

The lawsuit claimed the nuns are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “a statute whose goal is to protect religious exercise, to punitive damages.” However, on September 30, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Schmehl said the nuns “filed their lawsuit in the wrong venue and his court lacked jurisdiction.” The judge stated:

“The Natural Gas Act, which governs interstate natural gas pipelines, gives the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit exclusive jurisdiction over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certificates, such as the one it handed Transco in 2017 for the pipeline.”

What does that mean? Well, it means the nuns “sisters should have challenged the decision first by petitioning FERC and subsequently by filing their lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit rather than in a district court,” according to Schmehl.

This wasn’t the first time that the judge has ruled on a case filed by the sisters. In fact, back in January, he ruled that Transcontinental owed the sisters almost $170,000 over a lawsuit filed in 2017 “over the condemnation of an acre of the sisters’ 24-acre tract for the pipeline.

While the Adorers have a problem with the environmental aspect of the pipeline, it is important to note that the “The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline transports Marcellus shale gas from Pennsylvania to markets across the mid-Atlantic and southeastern states.”


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