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Episcopal priest among those arrested in Virginia environmental protest

Episcopal priest among those arrested in Virginia environmental protest

The Reverend Weston Mathews, associate rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal in Richmond, Va., and a contributing editor to Episcopal Cafe, was one of ten people arrested on Monday for protesting the proposed construction of a natural gas pipeline over 550 miles in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

The protest included a blockade of Virginia Dominion Power following the Richmond People’s Climate March, and an interfaith prayer vigil.

From a feature at

[Mathews] told ThinkProgress that he allowed himself to get arrested because he thinks nonviolent direct action is needed to send the message to Dominion that Virginians aren’t in favor of the pipeline. Running a natural gas pipeline — one with proposed routes that take it through George Washington National Forest and over the Appalachian Trail — through Virginia would be “devastating” to the people and environment in the state, he said.

Matthews also said his religious beliefs played in to his decision to protest the pipeline.

“Being an Episcopal priest who believes creation is blessed and good, it’s my job to stand up or it,” he said. “The integrity of creation matters a lot to me.”

WTVR also covered the story:

The group, some dressed in costumes, carried environmentally political signs that expressed sentiments about fracking and the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The ACP is a 550-mile natural gas pipeline that will travel through the state, including national forests, the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway.

The project is backed by Dominion Virginia Power, Duke Energy, and Piedmont Natural Gas and has yet to be approved by the Federal Regulatory Commission. Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced his support of the project in Sept. 2014 and called the project “good for the environment.”

The broadcast version of WVTR’s reporting includes an interview with Fr. Mathews. Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett



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Geoff McLarney

Hmm, in reviewing the comment policy I’m stumped as to why the comment I’ve tried twice now to post here wouldn’t pass muster?

David Streever

Geoff: Looks like a ‘false positive’ spam. I found your comments in our spam. When a moderator rejects the comment, it would go into trash, so it appears to be a glitch in the spam detection.

Terry Francis

Harry and Philip, your replies to my letter were appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to write back.

Philip Snyder

Terry – Yes. I would consider blocking an abortion clinic and getting arrested to be civil disobedience and legitimate protest and I would apply the same conditions – that the protesters not try to get out of their punishment, but embrace it as part of their protest.

Civil disobedience is not a progressive/conservative thing. It is a human thing. When you see a grave injustice (such as the killing of an innocent unborn child) being celebrated by people in society, it is your right (if not your duty) to disobey the laws and to face the punishment – as a means to show the injustice of the law and the system that supports it.

Terry Francis

I’m just curious, if a group of Catholics or conservative Christians who believe abortion is a sin decided to block an abortion clinic and got arrested as a result, would Harry, Marshall and Philip support their right to protest even if they didn’t agree with their reasons for doing it? Or do they consider “civil disobedience” legitimate only when progressives and those on the left engage in it?

Marshall Scott

And so, Philip, we agree in the categories and the way the issues can be considered. Well and good. And I agree Gossnell should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And for right now I think we can appreciate those points and go on.

Philip Snyder


Geoff McLarney

As a Christian Socialist with a consistent life ethic, I’m uncomfortable spinning abortion as a left/right issue. As a pacifist and feminist, I’m uncomfortable with the intimidation and harassment of women whatever the context or the excuse.

Marshall Scott

Terry, I also believe that anti-choice folks have the right to protest. The legal challenges as I understand them have been about just how personal that protest can become. That is, the challenges I am familiar with are about unwelcome address and sometimes (I don’t think frequent) touch of individual patients. At that point, the issue is about what constitutes (or doesn’t) violence against the individual patient or employee, and not about a right to dissent. We also make distinctions about public safety that may distinguish between blocking a medical facility and blocking corporate offices. Recent activities that have blocked highways, for example, seem to me to be another place that question can come up.

Philip Snyder

Marshal – if pro-life protesters blocked hosptials or ambulatory surgical locations or building where the primary medical procedures were not abortions (e.g. abortion clinics – which often do not face the same standards as other surgical sites), then I would agree that the protesters are violating public safety. Just as the Boston protesters blocked ambulances from getting to a level 1 trauma center endangered public safety and were not actually participating in “civil disobedience” as the place and manner of their protest did not actually say anything about their topic. (for example, if black people had not been able to use I93 because of their race, then the protest to shut down 93 would have been logical).

I also agree that grabbing or physically assaulting a person is a violation of civil disobedience. Touching them (e.g. a touch on the shoulder or arm to get their attention) without the intent to cause physical harm or to physically stop them is not an assault.

Most Abortion Clinics are “medical facilities” in the same way that Putt-Putt is a game of golf. They do not face the same licensing regulations, the same regulatory structure and are often not inspected for years (see Gossnell).

Harry M. Merryman

T. Francis: This is an important question. The legitimacy of nonviolent civil disobedience as an expression of conscience is not dependent on political ideology. Whether blocking others’ access to an abortion clinic would qualify as peaceful, nonviolent protest is the question. Although not a site I normally frequent, a very interesting debate about the legitimacy of the method of civil disobedience you raise for opposing abortion may be found at:

Philip Snyder

While I disagree with Fr. Matthews that a natural gas pipeline will destroy (or contribute to the destruction of) the planet, he is practicing a time honored tradition of civil disobedience. As long as he doesn’t try to get out of the punishment for the civil disobedience and is willing to sit in jail or pay the fine to be released and to pay the penalty imposed if he is convicted of a crime, then he is following a legitimate means of protest.

However, if he tries to get out of the penalty and is not willing to accept the consequences of his protest, then he is not being true to civil disobedience.

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