Supreme Court Justices will vote in early 2017 on whether or not they will take a dishonorably discharged Marine’s case. She is trying to defend her actions of putting a Bible verse up on her desk, while in the US military. Her case lost in August, but now former USMC Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling is once again with First Liberty Institute — and this time they are petitioning to get the case accepted by the Supreme Court.
The case is Sterling v. United States.
WASHINGTON—Lawyers representing Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling— the U.S. Marine court-martialed for displaying Bible verses on her desk—petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on the Friday before Christmas to take her appeal, one of the biggest military religious liberty cases in American history.
“No weapon formed against me shall prosper”-Isaiah 54:17 [paraphrased]
USMC Lance Cpl. Sterling posted that Holy Bible verse on her desk. This violation of code was one too many and it got her dishonorably discharged from the US military, sadly. Back in August, she stood in court against her dishonorable discharge — only to see that it would still be held against her. An August report said “.. a U.S. Marine’s dishonorable discharge from the military when the court ruled that the most powerful federal law guaranteeing religious liberty does not apply in the U.S. military in the same manner as for civilians in the private sector, in a case now likely going to the U.S. Supreme Court.” That verdict was issued in August in the US military’s highest court.
Although other Marines in that office had personal items in the desk spaces, she was ordered to remove three paper strips posting “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” paraphrasing a Bible verse, Isaiah 54:17.
That is one of many violations Sterling has had held against her, but the Bible verse incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back and got her court-martialed in January 2014.
First Liberty Institute, the biggest legal organization for religious freedom in the US, petitioned for the US military court to review her case and eventually they did. A former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement—a legend who has argued over 80 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court—agreed to argue on behalf of Sterling’s case. In August at the courthouse, General Clement and First Liberty Institute argued that Sterling had a right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to express her Christian faith by displaying the Bible verses, which she did during a turbulent time for her in the Marine Corps. Yet on August 10th, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in United States v. Sterling ruled against her by a 4-1 vote. The reason was because the facts of the case did not meet the legal requirements to assert RFRA.
The court also found that Sterling seemed to be “locked in an antagonistic relationship with her superiors,” and seemed to think that the posting of the Bible verses was a form of passive-aggressive rebellion against their authority.
The court noted that her chain-of-command was not very fond of her. Sterling’s supervisors said that she “cannot be relied upon to perform the simplest of tasks without 24/7 supervision [and] has not shown the discipline, professional growth, bearing, maturity or leadership required to be a Marine.” The court also faulted Sterling for not requesting an accommodation of her faith — before even trying to post the Bible verse on her desk. One judge stuck out and went against the majority. Judge Kevin Ohlson sided with Sterling’s case and said that RFRA “… provides the men and women of our nation’s armed forces with the presumptive right to fully, openly, and spontaneously engage in religious exercise. This right extends to sincere religious conduct that is not specifically required by, or deemed by judges to be important to, the tenets of a servicemember’s faith. Further, servicemembers who are court-martialed for sincere religious conduct may invoke the protections afforded by RFRA even if they did not obtain the permission of the Government before engaging in that conduct, and even if they did not contemporaneously inform their chain-of-command that their actions were religious in nature.” Judge Ohlson continued on and discounted the majority’s exploring Sterling’s substandard performance, pointing out that “RFRA does not predicate its applicability on the obedience, punctuality, demeanor, or performance of the person engaging in religious exercise.” Despite Ohlson’s opinion and despite Sterling’s case and their argument, they still lost 4-1 in August.
Two days before Christmas, Clement and First Liberty Institute filed Sterling’s request for review—called a petition for certiorari—at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In this case, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces joined the minority side of the split, limiting the civil liberties of the nearly two million men and women who defend religious freedom in uniform,” the petition reads.
Other appeals courts “sensibly recognized that a complete prohibition on religious exercise is the most obvious form of substantial burden and also recognize that the religious practice burdened need not be religiously-compelled,” the petition continues.
By contrast, although this military court’s decision “recognized that … Sterling’s posting of the Biblical quotations constituted religious exercise under RFRA,” it nonetheless “held that a Marine’s exercise of religion was not substantially burdened when her superior ordered her to remove from her personal workspace three small slips of paper containing Biblical quotations,” even when disobeying that order resulted in a criminal conviction.