• High Court Agrees To Hear Appeal Of Marine Discharged For Refusing To Remove Bible Verses

    The highest U.S. military court has agreed to take up the case of a Marine who was reduced in rank, court-martialed and given a bad conduct discharge for refusing to remove Bible verses from her work station.

    Monifa Sterling, who was a lance corporal stationed at Camp Lejune in North Carolina in May of 2013, kept a Bible verse on her computer in three places. The verses read “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” from the book of 54th chapter of Isaiah.

    Sterling’s staff sergeant demanded she remove the verse but she wouldn’t. The next day Sterling arrived at her station to find the verses ripped down, so she put them up again. This cycle repeated, and soon Sterling was court-martialed. She was convicted of disrespecting a superior commissioned officer, failing to go to an appointed place of duty, as well as disobeying a lawful order on four different specifications.

    Mike Berry, Sterling’s attorney from the Christian legal group the Liberty Institute, called the court-martial a “pretty drastic step” that violates her First Amendment right to religious expression. Two lower courts have ruled against Sterling. Now, The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the military equivalent of the Supreme Court, will hear her case likely in the spring of next year.

    Sterling now lives in North Carolina and 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 the bad conduct discharge.

    Berry acknowledged that military service members forfeit their full First Amendment rights when they join. Soldiers, for example, do not have full free speech when it comes to expressing their political views. But Berry told The Daily Caller News Foundation 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 TheDCNF. “Religious expression is  a unique subset that is given greater protection than free speech.”
    Sterling was convicted of disobeying a lawful order. Berry said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires that the government have a compelling interest to prevent someone from freely exercising their religion and they must do this using the least restrictive means possible. He said it’s hard to imagine a compelling government interest for making someone take Bible verses off their work station.

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