Thursday, August 11, 2016

Former Marine Loses Religious Freedom Case Involving Biblical Phrase

Fox News reports:
Monifa Sterling
A former Marine court-martialed in part for refusing to remove a biblical phrase from her workspace lost her appeal on Wednesday, when a federal court concluded the orders from her superiors did not constitute a "substantial burden" on her First Amendment rights. 
Monifa Sterling, who was a lance corporal stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was court-martialed for various offenses relating to separate incidents – including disrespecting a superior officer, disobeying lawful orders, and failing to report to an assigned duty.
But the part of the case that fueled her court challenge involved orders to remove a personalized version of the biblical phrase from Isiah 54:17: "No weapon formed against thee shall prosper." 
Sterling taped the verses in three spots on her workspace. Court testimony said Sterling's superior repeatedly ordered her to remove the signs -- and when she refused, trashed them. 
In its 4-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces turned away Sterling’s case. 
At issue is the extent a federal law on religious freedom protects members of the Armed Forces. The intersection of free speech on government property, especially within a military context, has made this case closely watched by a number of advocates on both sides of the debate 
"This is absolutely outrageous," said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute. "A few judges decided they could strip a Marine of her constitutional rights just because they didn't think her beliefs were important enough to be protected."...In a dissent, Judge Kevin Ohlson said, "while the military's asserted interest in good order and discipline surely deserves great deference, it does not demand reflexive devotion." 
The key dispute for the judges was interpreting a 1993 federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, requiring the government to seek the "least burdensome" and narrowly tailored means for any law that interferes with religious convictions.


Anonymous said...

In 5 months the lance corporal failed to report for duty; disrespected a Major; failed to follow orders; refused to wear the proper USMC uniform; and, of course, ignored repeated NCO requests not to display unapproved signs. When I served in the US Marine Corps one never thought of being disrespectful much less disobedient. However, there were malingerers and those who could not cope with military restrictions whose stay in the Marines was quickly terminated.
Having followed the legal recourse that the UCMJ afforded her, the disposition of her case has reached a just conclusion which is necessary to maintain a sense of order and cohesiveness which is essential in all branches of the military.

Paul K. Ogden said...

The display of a bible verse on one's computer interrupted the "sense of order and cohesiveness" in the military? Sorry, but that's utter BS. I'm all for higher standards in the military but this shouldn't have been a close question. What next, a Catholic Marine can't wear a crucifix?

Anonymous said...

It was not a bible verse on a computer but were three individual signs posted at her work station. Procedures were in place that may have granted her an accommodation should she have ever thought to apply for one. The court ruled that her refusal to accede to a superior's order was an act of insubordination in line with her previous contentious conduct.
The court affirmed that her bad conduct in other matters was sufficient to warrant a discharge. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, adherence to regulations is enforced by a system that encompasses rules of behavior that may seem contrary to some civilian standards especially by those who disregard the facts of a case.
Handling of matters within the military justice system is important in that it avoids the protracted interference of groups that disrupt a legal process that every soldier has agreed to. It is apparent that she lacked the ability to adjust to military life and has suffered the consequences.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 1:12,

The Uniform Code of Military Justice doesn't trump the Constitution. Nor does an order from an superior officer. It's not a defense to a constitutional violation that the violation was okay because the order came from a superior officer. Nor is it a defense that the person supposedly engaged in "bad conduct" because she resisted the constitutional violation. You have every right to complain about a supervisor trampling on your constitutional rights.

I understand it was a bible verse taped to her computer. You can call that a "sign" if you want. It doesn't matter. It was in her workplace. Not something put up in the general area.

If you are "okay" with what they did to this young lady, then I guess you're okay with forbidding Catholics in the military from wearing crucifixes around their neck.

I totally agree that the military has more authority to regulate in these matters than do other government entities. But that authority is certainly not absolute. You don't lose your free exercise rights (and rights protected by the federal RFRA) simply because you're in the military. There is simply no serious case to be made that she was somehow interfering with morale and military cohesion by putting up the verse. (Seriously who possibly was offended by those verses?) Rather this appears to be nothing more than a supervisor on a power trip. You are okay with that and the man trampling on the woman's religious freedom. I am not

Anonymous said...

She refused a reasonable order to hand out passes to families visiting returning soldiers among other violations of the UCMJ. If you and Faux News want to take one aspect of this woman's violations and make her a poster child then it is no surprise.
The military services have more safeguards in protecting service members than at-will states where an employee may be fired for no reason. Her dismissal was based on an accumulation of incidents any one of which qualified her for judicial action.
You criticize the military personnel involved including an NCO, a Major, testimony from her co-workers, and two military courts as being on a power trip which shows a total lack of respect for the integrity of the Marine Corps.
Apparently some commentators have never worn a dog tag around their necks.

Eric Morris said...

Based on my observation, more people worship the empire's military than they do the Prince of Peace. Despite all the evidence that the military is a tool of empire, anti-Christian and now pro-sex change, many supposed believers give it the benefit of the doubt still and salute the troops in church itself. Apparently the favor is not returned!

LamLawIndy said...

Paul, the appellate opinion indicated that Sterling did not indicate until trial that the signs had any religious significance to her. One would think that -- if indeed the signs had a personal, religious meaning -- she would've raised the issue much earlier.