A warning is being delivered to the U.S. military for court-martialing Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling for posting a Bible verse in her Camp LeJeune work space.
“If the lower court’s ruling is left unchanged, religious freedom will be subject to the whims of military supervisors and a chilling effect will sweep across the military,” charges the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Chaplain Alliance, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the appeal involving Sterling.
At three places in her work space, Sterling posted a phrase from Isaiah 54:17, “No weapons formed against me shall prosper.”
According to the brief, her supervisor said, “I don’t like the tone,” and told her to take them down.
“When Sterling declined, her supervisor took them 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,” the brief said.
But the supervisors actions, the brief contends, is contrary to the Constitution and the law.
“No one in our military who goes to work every day to defend our freedoms should then be court-martialed for exercising those very freedoms,” said ADF Legal Counsel Daniel Briggs, a former Air Force JAG officer.
“This case is about Monifa, but it is also about every American who puts on the uniform in service to this country. The question is whether they will be allowed to exercise their faith in the military, or whether they will be denied the same constitutionally protected freedoms they have volunteered to defend and are willing to die for.”
First, the legal brief explained, “the orders clearly lacked a valid military purpose for broadly restricting appellant’s private rights and personal affairs.”
“The orders were not related to mission accomplishment or the maintenance of good order and discipline. The record is devoid off any evidence whatsoever of prejudice to good order and discipline; in fact, every witness whose testimony touched on the issue, stated they never saw anything distracting, agitating, or controversial on or near appellant’s desk.”
Second, the legal standard is that such orders “must not conflict with the statutory or constitutional rights of the person receiving the order.”
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution has always protected religious exercise. … In the present case, the orders were clearly unlawful as they had no valid military purpose and conflicted with appellant’s constitutional and statutory rights.”
The censorship also, the brief said, violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“The Supreme Court acknowledged Congress’ mandate that RFRA ‘be construed in favor of a broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this chapter and the Constitution,'” the brief said.
The censorship “substantially burden[ed]” her beliefs, the brief continued.
“It stands to reason that if a substantial burden potentially runs afoul of RFRA, an absolute prohibition must.”
Finally, there was no compelling government interest in the censorship, the document said.
The brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on the case before the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.
“Congress and the courts have made it clear that religious freedom is truly our first freedom; it must not be watered down and should be burdened only in the most extreme circumstances,” said Chaplain (Col.) Ron Crews (retired), executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.
“This is just as true in the military. Though it is a unique institution with a mission that must be accomplished, service members cannot be forced to check their faith when they put on the uniform. Their religious freedom is more precious than ever before and must be strongly defended. Those who are willing to give all deserve nothing less.”
Earlier this year, WND reported Michael Berry of Liberty Institute, who is representing Sterling, said Sterling has a good chance of reversing the decision.
“If the government can order a Marine not to display a Bible verse, they could try and order her not to get a religious tattoo or go to church on Sunday,” Berry said at the time. “Restricting a Marine’s free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional.”