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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Sues Forest Service for Denying Medical Care to Pipeline Protester, Asks Court to Let Medical Doctor Access Tree Sitter

ROANOKE, Va. — The Rutherford Institute has filed a lawsuit demanding that government officials allow a physician to examine and provide medical care for a pipeline protester who is being deprived of food and water in an effort to force her to end her “tree sitting” protest against the construction of a natural gas pipeline through the National Forest.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, asserts that Forest Service agents have violated Dr. Greg Gelburd’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and First Amendment by preventing him from examining “Nutty,” a 28-year-old woman who has spent close to 50 days perched in a “monopod” atop a 45-foot pole (“tree sitting”) in the National Forest in protest over the 303-mile long Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) which has resulted in the taking of private property and destruction of national forest areas. The lawsuit alleges that government agents are attempting to force Nutty to end her protest by denying her access to food, water, provisions and medical assistance, as well as jeopardizing her health by directing smoke at her, subjecting her to bright lights at night, and targeting her with noise from generators placed below the tree.

Affiliate attorneys Tammy Belinsky and Alan Stuart Graf are assisting The Rutherford Institute in the lawsuit.

“Pipeline and forestry officials have been working hard to make life as difficult as possible for the pipeline protesters,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “By shining floodlights into the trees at all hours of the night, creating ground disturbances, directing smoke into the trees, and blocking the protesters’ access to food, water and medical care, the government has made it clear that its priorities have little to do with respecting the rights of the American people and everything to do with corporate profits at taxpayer expense.”

The development of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia has resulted not only in the taking of private property from scores of landowners, but the destruction of forest lands located in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in southwest Virginia. Citizen opposition to the pipeline has resulted in numerous protests and acts of civil disobedience. In March 2018, one such protester, “Nutty,” began occupying a “monopod” atop a 45-foot pole along the proposed path of the MVP. Government agents attempting to force Nutty out of the monopod have blocked her access to food and water, burned fires near the pole, sent smoke into the monopod, trained spotlights on her at night, and operated a noisy generator at the base of the pole.

When Dr. Gelburd learned of Nutty’s plight, he felt compelled—personally and professionally—to hike into the National Forest to assess her medical condition and, if necessary, provide care. Forest Service officials blocked Gelburd from accessing Nutty on the threat of arrest. Gelburd’s concern for Nutty’s health is rooted not only in the ethical obligations of his medical profession, but also in his religious beliefs that compel him to use his skills as a physician to assist persons in need of medical assistance, particularly the poor and disadvantaged. Acting on his conscience and religious beliefs, Gelburd has made traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad to provide medical assistance to those in need, including to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to mountain neighborhoods in Honduras where people lack sufficient access to medical care, and to a refugee camp in Leros, Greece.

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