An order of Roman Catholic nuns near Columbia will get another day in federal court in their pursuit of a lawsuit against a gas pipeline company and a federal agency.
In a federal appeals court in Philadelphia on Friday, attorneys for the Adorers of the Blood of Christ will argue that forcibly building the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline through their property was a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In September, a federal district court judge in Reading dismissed the nuns’ freedom-of-religion lawsuit brought against the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the project, saying the court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit.
The nuns disagreed, and appealed the case to a federal appeals court.
In addition to hearing from the nuns’ attorneys on Friday, a panel of three judges will hear arguments from attorneys for FERC and the pipeline company.
The nuns maintain that their land ethic, adopted in 2005, holds them to use their West Hempfield Township property in a manner that does not harm the Earth. The pipeline, they say, will carry fracked natural gas, a fossil fuel “that would facilitate climate change and harm the Earth, in direct contravention of their religious beliefs.”
The court will not make a decision on Friday. If the judges eventually rule in favor of the nuns, their freedom-of-religion lawsuit would be remanded back to U.S. District Court.
The nuns’ objections to the pipeline has received worldwide attention.
When they refused to grant a right of way for the pipeline through a cornfield they own in West Hempfield Township, Transcontinental — or Transco — used eminent domain to gain access to the property.
In protest, the nuns allowed Lancaster Against Pipelines, a group opposed to the pipeline, to carve out a section of the cornfield in the pipeline’s path and build a prayer chapel.
But the pipeline was buried around the chapel and it was fenced off, but not removed. The pipeline work on the property is believed to be the first section of pipe laid in Lancaster County, and the nuns maintain that was done on purpose.
The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is a $3 billion, 187-mile project to carry natural gas from wells in the Marcellus Shale formation of Pennsylvania to markets along the East Coast as far as Alabama. Some of the gas is earmarked for export overseas.
The pipeline is currently being built in 10 Pennsylvania counties, including 37 miles of Lancaster County.