Marine Bible-verses case goes to highest military court

From The Washington Times

By Kellan Howell

The highest U.S. military court will hear the case of a Marine who was punished for refusing to remove a Bible verse from her workstation.

In May, 2013 then-Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling kept a Bible verse on her computer in three places. The verses read “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” a modification of the Isaiah 54:17, according to the Catholic News Agency.

Ms. Sterling’s staff sergeant demanded she remove the verse, but Ms. Sterling refused, saying she had the right to express her religious freedom.

Former Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling

Former Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling

The next day Ms. Sterling arrived to find the verses had been ripped down from her station. She put them up again. The cycle repeated until Ms. Sterling was court-martialed on Feb. 1, 2014.

She was convicted of disrespecting a superior commissioned officer, failing to go to an appointed place of duty, and disobeying a lawful order on four separate occasions, The Daily Caller reported.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals also sided against Ms. Sterling, saying significant damage could be caused by forcing military employees to be exposed to a religious quotation, CNA reported.

“The risk that such exposure could impact the morale or discipline of the command is not slight,” the court said in its ruling. “Maintaining discipline and morale in the military work center could very well require that the work center remain relatively free of divisive or contentious issues such as personal beliefs, religion, politics, etc., and a command may act preemptively to prevent this detrimental effect.”

The case will now go to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces — the highest military court in America. Oral arguments in the case will likely be heard in the spring.

“Marines fight for the freedom of all Americans and make many sacrifices to do so,” Liberty Institute senior counsel and director of military affairs Michael Berry told CNA. “They should not be denied their most fundamental freedom — religious freedom — which is guaranteed to all.”

Mr. Berry told CNA that the court will now have to determine if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to the military.

“The outcome will send a clear message to people serving in the military on whether their religious freedom will be protected by the military court system,” Mr. Berry said, CNA reported.

Mr. Berry acknowledged that military service members forfeit their full First Amendment rights when they join the armed forces. Soldiers, for examples, do not have full free speech when is comes to expressing their political views. But Mr. Berry argued that doesn’t apply to religious exercise.

“Even though there are things that a person in the military would not be allowed to say under free speech, that same logic does not apply to religious expression,” Berry told The Daily Caller. “Religious expression is a unique subset that is given greater protection than free speech.”

Ms. Sterling is currently on appellate leave in North Carolina and is prohibited from performing military duties. She has had trouble finding a good job because of the blemish on her military record. She also does not receive any benefits usually due to veterans because of her bad conduct discharge.

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