Domestic Religious Liberty


Solar Panels

August 4, 2016

Unitarian Universalist Church: Solar Panels a First Amendment Right

One Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) congregation in New England is suing to preserve their supposed religious right to solar energy. The church is arguing that they must be allowed to build solar panels on their historic building, because stopping climate change is “foundational” to their faith, and hence an extension of their “freedom of religion.”

The Historic District Commission in Bedford, Mass., denied First Parish in Bedford a permit to build solar panels on their historic church building. “In response, the congregation filed a complaint on June 27 based on an unusual argument: that the denial violated their congregation’s free exercise of religion, specifically the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as Article II of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights,” wrote Jack Jenkins, Senior Religion Reporter at the progressive think tank ThinkProgress.

Jenkins noted that the “religious liberty framework of the suit is unusual, as the legal argument is more often used by conservative faith groups such as evangelical Christians, not deeply progressive religious traditions such as the UUA.” He added that “progressive claims to religious liberty” are increasing in frequency.

According to the lawsuit filed by First Parish, the UUA subscribes to Seven Principles. The Seventh Principle calls on Unitarians to “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

“Respect and care for the natural world has been a core tenet of Unitarian and Universalist religious belief since their inception,” the complaint continued. They appealed to the examples of their prominent forbearers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to prove the importance of “[e]vironmental justice and stewardship” to their faith tradition in past centuries.

The congregation argued that global warming was clearly the “most pressing” modern environmental challenge facing the world. “As such, Unitarian Universalists across the nation believe that their religion necessarily involves taking action on a personal, congregational and community level to confront and mitigate mankind’s role in causing and exacerbating global warming,” they said. Installing solar panels was hence a religious act.

The case is headed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and if solar energy indeed proves to be foundational to the Unitarian Universalist faith, this says much about the progressive core values of the progressive denomination. If their line of argument gains legal standing, one must also wonder whether conservative claims regarding freedom of religion will win greater respect in courts and in the public arena, even when these stands are culturally unpopular and not progressively trendy.

4 Responses to Unitarian Universalist Church: Solar Panels a First Amendment Right

  1. Philip says:

    Sometimes, it’s just amazing what a couple of people can do in the name of supreme intellect under the guise of religion. If we pin our hopes for confirmation of religious freedom to this tortuous rationalization of politics and religion, we are doomed.

  2. greenpeaceRdale1844coop says:

    If a historic building had termites in original wood structures, could they take no action? I think the UUs are making a good argument.

  3. jonathanpulliam says:

    Hello to all,
    As a member of the First Parish in Bedford for many years, I do not find the climate alarmists who have beguiled our UUA brethren to be at all credible, and the use of photo-voltaic solar panels on the roof of the church is grossly inappropriate and entails actually, net net, more, not less, of a so-called carbon footprint than the unadorned, conventionally-powered structure we have at present.

    Fundamentally, the PV cell was designed to power satellites in space, during the Vanguard program in 1959, NOT as some panacea for residential power generation. There are many charlatans who would perpetrate a hoax that PV is less environmentally damaging than the fossil fuels it PURPORTS to supplant. The trouble is, PV cells require more energy to manufacture than they will ever return during their entire service lifespans. So their carbon foot-print must necessarily reflect that deficit/shortfall.

    The First Parish proposal neglects to factor the costs of doing normal roof maintenance after $116,000.00 worth of PV cell panels have been installed. “Doh!”, as Homer Simpson would say — “Unitarians!”

    The First Parish proposal glosses over the fact that there is no economic justification for the addition of solar PV panels, nor any environmental benefit, for PV solar cell installations do NOT merely contain the PV cells, they must include inverters, and (typically ) lead-acid storage batteries, copper wiring, and added security, dependent on installation size.

    For every pound of lead in your lead acid storage batteries, two pounds of lead were lost into the biosphere during Lead mining, Lead ore transport, and Lead smelting operations. Copper must be mined and the environmental impact is not trivial for those neighboring the mines.

    Unitarians already banished Jesus from their sanctuary, now they want to banish Empiricism, and Rationalism as well. It is a dark day indeed for Common Sense.

    • “Climate alarmists”? You call them that and employ profiteering economic ideology to accuse them of acting against Reason? Indeed, the only ones talking like that are those rejecting the Scientific work done by the UN IPCC, and promoting the further profiteer propaganda accusing the UN itself of having ulterior motives. That profiteers, corporate executives and their ideological supporters who advocate profit-maximization in defiance and denial of mere “scheming” scientists? You should reread the part in the NT where Jesus drives the moneychangers out of the Temple, critiques the Pharisee Teachers of the Law about demanding tithes and forgetting love, faith, and justice, and in the same chapter, the need to “Clean the cup within where there is wickedness.” One of Jesus´ main teachings is to “Seek the Kingdom of God first….which is neither in that or this place but within you” in addition to “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there.” Moreover, on the Sabbath, Jesus led the disciples to gather grain, heal, and taught about the legitimacy of doing good, even if it broke an unjust rule. Profiteers have corralled their share of followers of Christ. If the battle is between progressive Christians and hardline conservatives, I suppose God and Jesus will have to judge them all on the basis of such teachings, no matter how much they appear to conflict with conservative doctrine.

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