Just a few hundred feet from the Rio Grande River, one tiny adobe Catholic Chapel stands in the way of the construction of the proposed wall on the southern border of the United States.
The La Lomita Chapel was built over 150 years ago, situated just a few hundred feet from the United States and Mexico border near the Rio Grande River. Its an iconic figure in the Catholic history of the area, once an important site for the Cavalry of Christ, Oblate missionaries who traveled long distances on horseback to minister to Catholics living on isolated ranches in the Rio Grande Valley.
Today, its become the subject of a dispute over the construction of the border wall as it stands directly in the path of a new proposed section. Mary McCord, a lawyer at Georgetown University Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, filed on behalf of the Archdiocese of Brownsville to assert their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“As we made pretty clear in our briefing filed on behalf of the diocese in court last week in McAllen, Texas, the diocese intends to assert its rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to fight any building of the wall there.”
The act “prohibits government actions that substantially burden the exercise of religion without the government establishing a compelling governmental interest and no other means of satisfying that interest.”
McCord argues that under RFRA, the government’s plans for the walls design would “burden free exercise of religion” and “be a physical barrier between those who seek to worship at the chapel, which dates back to the 1800s.”
An initial court decision approved the US government to access the land to survey the historic property in Mission, Texas. Bishop of Brownsville Daniel E. Flores objected to the survey for future construction, saying in a statement that:
“Such a structure would limit the freedom of the church to exercise her mission in the Rio Grande Valley, and would in fact be a sign contrary to the Church’s mission.”
Father Roy Snipes, priest of La Lomita Chapel for nearly 25 years, is also disappointed with the court’s decision to approve the survey and the possibility of a border wall being built on the property.
“I am worried, almost worried sick. The worst thing that will happen is it’ll be a big, ugly, kind of obnoxious and obscene symbol – the opposite of the symbol of Our Lady of Refuge, which is Our Lady of Liberty.”
Another court date will soon be set to dictate the terms of the survey. The diocese wants to ensure no parishioners are interrupted during their time worshiping at the chapel.
“We’re hoping the government, frankly, will reconsider. Recognizing that a physical barrier that cuts off access to the chapel, not only to Father Roy and his parish but those that seek to worship there, is clearly a substantial burden on the exercise of religious freedom.”
McCord says that after the survey if the government “persists in its desire to take the property at La Lomita for the building of the wall, that will have to go through litigation.”