Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Religious Liberty

Jul/17

18

Nuns, a Pipeline and Religious Liberty – or Privilege

Well, here’s something for everyone: Pipelines, eminent domain, nuns, ‘religious liberty’ or (take your pick) religious privilege.

As the Washington Post explains the story, an energy company (Williams Cos) wants to run a natural gas pipeline through agricultural land owned by an order of nuns, one of whom, explains the Post’s writer, “has always known this land as sacred”.

I’ll let that comment stand there.

What Williams does is pay for an easement to dig up the land and put a pipe in. It then hands back the land to its owners. According to the company’s spokesman, it will compensate farmers for lost crops and will return to inspect whether agricultural output over the pipeline returns to normal.

The nuns are opposed to the project. According to one of their number they “believe in sustenance of all creation.”

No matter that, compared with most fossil fuels, natural gas is associated with relatively low CO2 emissions. And no matter (I’m making a guess, but not, I suspect, an unreasonable one) that the nuns make use, directly or indirectly, of fossil fuels themselves.

The Washington Post:

The pipeline company first sought without success to negotiate with the nuns. Now as Williams Cos. tries to seize the land by eminent domain, the order is gearing up for a fight in the courtroom — and a possible fight in the field, as well.

There, smack in the path of the planned pipeline, the nuns have dedicated a new outdoor chapel.

“We just wanted to symbolize, really, what is already there: This is holy ground,” said Sister Janet McCann, a member of the national leadership team of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, whose 2,000 nuns around the world have made environmental protection and activism a key part of their mission.

The sisters’ chapel is a rudimentary symbol, but a powerful one: eight long benches, a wooden arbor and a pulpit, all on a straw-coated patch of land carved out of the cornfield.

I am no great fan of eminent domain (even if it is sometimes necessary), but the key question here is whether a makeshift chapel (built primarily as a legal device) and claims that this piece of Pennsylvania is ‘holy land’ should give these nuns a privilege denied almost everyone else – an exemption from the law.

The Washington Post

The Adorers and their supporters’ nascent faith-based resistance, which has been compared to the anti-pipeline activism led by Native Americans at Standing Rock, N.D., could eventually set a precedent in a murky area of religious freedom law.

U.S. appeals court judges have ruled inconsistently on whether federal law protects religious groups from eminent domain in such cases. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which covers Delaware, New Jersey and the part of Pennsylvania where the nuns reside, has yet to issue a ruling on the matter. Legal observers say a case could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There is something to this ‘holy land’ thing,” said Dan Dalton, a Michigan land-use and zoning attorney and the author of a book on the litigation of religious land-use cases. “There haven’t been a lot of appellate cases. . . . It really is a relatively new issue.”

… In a complaint they filed in federal court Friday, the nuns argued that FERC’s authorization of the pipeline on their property violated their religious freedom, protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“FERC’s decision to force the Adorers to use land they own to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers. It places a substantial burden on the Adorers’ exercise of religion,” the nuns’ attorneys wrote.

Another federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, could more specifically protect the nuns, depending on a judge’s interpretation. That law seeks to shield religious institutions from land-use laws that would otherwise impose a substantial burden on their religious exercise. But the nation’s appellate courts have offered differing opinions on whether the law applies to eminent domain. The 3rd Circuit, where the Adorers are located, has never ruled on that question, several lawyers familiar with this area of law said, so the nuns may be the ones to set the precedent.

This will be a  story to watch.

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Apr/15

4

John Fisher, Again

John_Fisher_(painting)Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher refers, by implication approvingly, to St. John Fisher, “the English Catholic bishop who went to his death rather than conform to the king’s dictates.”

Say what you will, but Fisher was no defender of religious liberty. I posted about this sinister fanatic (a man who played an important role in the trial and execution of Thomas Hitton, the man often described as England’s first protestant martyr) a few years ago.

Let’s return to Wikipedia (in this case, why not?):

Hitton was a priest who had joined William Tyndale and the English exiles in the Low Countries. He returned to England on a brief visit in 1529 to contact the supporters of Tyndale and to arrange for the distribution of smuggled books such as the first English Psalter translated by George Joye. He was seized near Gravesend on his way to the coast to take a ship,and found to be in possession of letters from the English exiles. He was then arrested on the grounds of heresy, interrogated and probably tortured. He was condemned by Archbishop William Warham and by Bishop John Fisher and burnt at the stake at Maidstone on 23 February 1530.

As I noted in my earlier post, Fisher was no defender of freedom of conscience. What he was defender of his conscience, and, indeed, an enforcer of it on others. As for his fate, well, biter bit.

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Apr/15

4

Religious Liberty!

WallsBalkanization moves on merrily along.

WABC:

– A man is suing Costco for religious discrimination.

He tells Eyewitness News exclusively that when he refused to work with pork, the major retailer sent him outside to gather carts.

“Just because you have a different belief, that doesn’t give anybody the right to treat you different,” said Jean Camara, suing Costco.

That’s why Jean Camara says he’s doing what he’s doing, suing Costco for religious employment discrimination. The devout Muslim says he was working as a cashier’s assistant at the Costco in Sunset Park Brooklyn in September of 2012 when pork came across the conveyor belt. It’s against his religious beliefs to touch either pork or alcohol.Camara says after telling his managers this, they transferred him outside collecting the shopping carts.

Camara says they never told him why he was reassigned.

“I think that as the case progresses in the trial we are in now, I think the facts are going to come out and they’re going to speak for themselves,” said Chauncey Henry, Camara’s attorney.

Camara says he asked his managers if he could work in the electronics department, but his requests were repeatedly denied.
He ended up filing a human rights complaint against the company. 16 days later, he was fired for insubordinate conduct.

“We all share different beliefs so we all should be treated equally no matter what belief we have,” Camara said.

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While I have been busy with my newborn daughter there has been a lot of brouhaha over the Obama administration and their infringement of religious liberty due to their position on contraception and health care. I don’t have a strong opinion on that issue, rather, I want anyone who entertains qualms about religious liberty to read Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. In it the author argues that religious liberty for religious systems with an orthopraxic dimension, basically every major religious tradition except a few radical Protestant sects, is always problematic because allowances for those liberties and accommodations are always premised on the authority’s adjudication of what is, and isn’t, within bounds of a given tradition. In other words judges are put in a position of determining whether a given practice is authentically an expression of the religious practices of a given group.

(more…)

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