Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling

Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling

A Sikh and a Jew have filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of a Christian, urging the justices to overturn a lower court’s ruling that judges can determine whether or not a religious practice is “important” enough to be protected.

WND reported in 2016 when the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services affirmed the dismissal of former Marine Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling, who posted the Bible verse “No weapons formed against me shall prosper” at her work station and declined to take it down when a supervisor objected to the “tone.”

The supervisor then took the verses down at the end of the duty day. Sterling reprinted and re-posted the messages, but she found them in the trash the next morning. She was then court-martialed, according to the complaint.

The legal team working on Sterling’s behalf, from First Liberty Institute, then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court’s majority decided it could strip a Marine of her constitutional rights just because it didn’t think her beliefs were important enough to be protected,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty. “If they can court-martial a Marine over a Bible verse, what’s to stop them from punishing service members for reading the Bible, talking about their faith, or praying?”

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Now with the high court’s decision on whether to accept the case pending, a number of friend-of-the-court briefs have arrived on Sterling’s behalf.

One is from Lt. Col. Kamal S. Kalsi, an emergency room physician who earned the Bronze Star in Afghanistan in 2011 and became the first Sikh member of the armed forces to be permitted to serve on active duty with a turban, beard and unshorn hair in more than 20 years.

He fought the system to be allowed to practice important requirements of his faith and now is arguing for Sterling to be allowed the same.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is the final shield for those forced to choose between serving their country and observing their faith,” his brief argues. “If the opinion below were to stand, the religious freedoms of service members, especially those of minority religious groups like Sikhs, could be greatly restricted.”

RFRA limits the government’s ability to impose a burden on a person’s religious faith.

The brief argues: “Congress clearly intended for the judiciary to perform an active and essential function in safeguarding religious freedom while simultaneously refraining from passing judgment on the objective validity or importance of a religious adherent’s beliefs.”

The military court, however, decided that banning the Bible verse signs would neither “prevent her from engaging in conduct [her] religion requires or cause her to abandon one of the precepts of her religion.”

Kalsi asserted the Supreme Court should “bring the CAAF’s interpretation of RFRA’s ‘substantial burden’ requirement in line with the majority of the courts of appeals and with congressional intent.”

“The United States military has a strong tradition of religious pluralism. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and those who profess no faith at all have served side by side for centuries. If CAAF’s decision is allowed to stand, the religious freedoms of service members could be greatly restricted,” he argued.

Shackelford noted that the precedent even could turn on civilians across America.

“Sterling’s case is extremely important to the future of religious freedom, as the number and quality of these amicus briefs reveal,” Shackelford said. “Voices in the military, in the church, in religious minorities, and from across the nation are uniting to ask the Supreme Court to protect religious freedom. We hope the Supreme Court will heed their requests and accept this historic religious freedom case.”

Another brief is from Dr. S. Simcha Goldman, a clinical psychologist and a retired U.S. military member.

He also is an ordained rabbi and adherent to Orthodox Jewish religious practice. He was the petitioner in an unsuccessful Supreme Court case in 1986, when he asked for permission to wear a yarmulke while in uniform, before the creation of the RFRA. That decision, he noted, was “broadly denounced.”

His brief explains that if the Supreme Court rejects this case, there is not another opportunity to correct “the CAAF’s error.”

“Service members do not have an appeal right to the CAAF, and there is no reason to think the CAAF will voluntarily revisit the erroneous holding,” it says. “This petition is thus the court’s only chance to ensure the men and women of faith in our armed forces enjoy the full protections RFRA guarantees.”

He notes that Justice Brennan dissented from the 1986 Supreme Court opinion and said the court had “abdicated its role as principle expositor of the Constitution and protector of individual liberties.”

But now RFRA states clear requirements: “The claimant must show a substantial burden, and upon doing so, the government must satisfy strict scrutiny.”

Also sounding off on behalf of Sterling was the state of Texas, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a group of retired generals and 36 members of Congress.

The Foundation for Moral Law, a national public interest organization defending religious liberty, pointed out that President Franklin Roosevelt, on the first page of Bibles distributed to American troops in World War II, said: “As commander-in-chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a foundation of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.

“When Lance Corporal Monifa J. Sterling enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, she did not forfeit the rights guaranteed to her by the Constitution she took an oath to defend,” the group argued.

“It defies the imagination to conceive of a military necessity that cannot accommodate a small sign on LCpl Sterling’s desk that simply says, without attribution to Isaiah 54:17, ‘No weapon formed against me shall prosper.’

“This court should … grant certiorari to protect the religious freedom of 1.3 million active duty American military personnel and their families, 800,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve, and 765,000 full-time-equivalent civilian employees.

“There is absolutely no reason the Marines cannot accommodate LCpl Sterling’s simple desire to have three strips of paper with Bible verses on her desk.”

Shackelford said: “It’s rare for a Supreme Court case to receive a single amicus brief at this stage, let alone seven. We’re blown away to see a broad range of parties of such high caliber weigh in on this case to support religious freedom.”

“The Liberty Amendments” is the blueprint on how to fix our broken government by Mark Levin, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of “Liberty and Tyranny” and “Ameritopia.” Order it today at WND’s Superstore.

“This is a real-life example of why judges shouldn’t play theologians,” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Sterling at the lower courts.

“Here, a few judges concluded that keeping scripture nearby isn’t ‘important,’ even though more than half of the world’s population belong to religions that teach the exact opposite. Avoiding obvious errors like this is why RFRA protects all religious beliefs, not just beliefs that government officials deem ‘important.'”

 

 

 

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