Court’s-Martialed. Do The Armed Forces Have a Constitutional Right to Religious Freedoms?

A Combat Soldiers Prayer (Photo: Public Domain)

A Combat Soldiers Prayer (Photo: Public Domain)

August 12, 2016

By Lorra B.

A U.S. Marine’s appeal has been denied by a federal court.

Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling received several charges of disobeying orders in 2014 and was court’s-martialed. Having received a bad-conduct discharge and demoted to Private, she left the Marine Corps. Sterling received her discharge orders, in part, for refusing to remove a bible verse from her workstation.

In three areas of her workspace, Sterling posted the verse from Isaiah 54-17 “No weapons formed against me shall prosper.”

Sterling’s supervisor stated, “I don’t like the tone” and Sterling was ordered to take the verses down. According to WND, “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 court of Appeals for the military seems to have determined what religious practice is and is not ‘important’ enough to be protected and president of First Liberty Institute, Kelly Shackelford, is not happy.

“This is absolutely outrageous. 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,” he said. “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?”

Although Shackelford believes the punishment Sterling received to be unconstitutional the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces determined otherwise.

“Appellant has failed to establish that the orders to remove the signs substantially burdened her religious beliefs. While Appellant seeks to cast the substantial burden as caused by the choice between obeying the orders to remove the signs and potentially facing a court-martial, this logic is flawed, as it presumes that taking down the signs constitutes a substantial burden—a burden imposing both secular and religious costs. This is the very legal question to be decided. We reject the argument that every interference with a religiously motivated act constitutes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion.

In this case, Appellant did not present any testimony that the signs were important to her exercise of religion, or that removing the signs would either prevent her from engaging in conduct [her] religion requires, or cause her to “abandon one of the precepts of her religion. While Appellant testified that posting the signs was religiously motivated in part, she did not testify that she believed it is any tenet or practice of her faith to display signs at work. Nor does Appellant’s testimony indicate how complying with the order to remove the signs pressured her to either change or abandon her beliefs or forced her to act contrary to her religious beliefs. Although Appellant did not have to provide evidence that posting signs in her shared workspace was central to her belief system, she did have to provide evidence indicating an honest belief that “the practice [was] important to [her] free exercise of religion.” Contrary to Appellant’s assertions before this Court, the trial evidence does not even begin to establish how the orders to take down the signs interfered with any precept of her religion let alone forced her to choose between a practice or principle important to her faith and disciplinary action.”

A former Air Force JAG officer, Daniel Briggs, stated, “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.”

Briggs went on to say, ““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.”

This is an issue of just what extent religious freedom protections will be allowed members of the Armed Forces. It begs the question of whether or not military members, who are considered to be government property, have a constitutional right to religious freedom.

In 1993 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act became law. The act requires the government to seek the “least burdensome” means when dealing with religious beliefs.

The court, however, ruled, “In this case, the record does not clearly address whether [Sterling’s] conduct was based on a ‘sincerely held religious belief’ or motivated by animosity toward her chain of command.”

Judge Kevin Ohlson stated, “while the military’s asserted interest in good order and discipline surely deserves great deference, it does not demand reflexive devotion.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces denied Sterling’s case in a 4-1 opinion.

With the Armed Forces religious freedoms at risk, Sterling and First Liberty Institute plan on appealing this decision to the Supreme Court.

By Lorra B


16 thoughts on “Court’s-Martialed. Do The Armed Forces Have a Constitutional Right to Religious Freedoms?

  1. Don’t hate me…but you really need to read more of this…playing devils advocate…(and discussing this with my retired Marine) —Umm….the very fact that she did not ask anyone to put up the verse is what got her in trouble…she did not discuss this with her superior beforehand. Sorry guys….she knew (and her lawyer admitted to it) what she did was wrong by not asking or discussing it first. She also owned up to the fact that she knew she had to go to her superior before she put the verse up. Her superiors prior to court martial gave her ample time to and means to discuss and have a dialogue and she refused…starting her Constitutional Rights. Sorry, she simply disobeyed a order. Was her superior being a hard arse–sure…but there is more to this story. The very fact her attorney owned up to several things is what got her and the case this far, plus she never stated it was important when asked if this was based on her religion.

    NOW, I disagree with her being thrown out of the Marines, and perhaps they overreacted on their part…I see it going to the highest court. I agree, Lorra, they certainty will not throw out a service member if it was other than Christianity.
    (ducking for cover)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well done my friend! Challenge away, that’s what it is all about! Clearly I did not dive far enough into this…there will be an update with more info (ahem, ahem 🙂 ) as this goes along…. Love it!

      Liked by 2 people

      • well…that wasn’t her first time in trouble…and that latest incident is what did her career in…she has been in trouble before…such as not being in uniform and not showing for her guard post. I think the she has bigger issues….but I am sure this will get tested….not sure if she really wants it all out or not….just saying.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Linda, what you supplied was “the rest of the story.”

      With all the propaganda, hate and muslim’s easy to jump to conclusions. Maybe she did deserve to be tossed out….reading what you posted…the Marines gave her more than enough chances to make right her infraction, she didn’t take it, she (I guess) stood on her principles. As an individual, great, as part of a long standing organization, not so smart.

      She won’t win her case, until she accuses the Marines of discrimination, then she’d have all the black activists…anarchists (better word for them)… marching and demanding the assassination of the military brass.

      Time will tell.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. WRONG! This is religious bias….this is the commie left wing PC in overdrive! Destroy! Destroy. Conquer!

    From our not-so-dear friend: Lenin….1917

    Lenin’s Decalogue “Manual to Seize Control of a Society” which he used in the 1917 Russian Re-Revolution (The October Surprise) usurping control from the original Russian Revolution which occurred earlier in the spring of that year.

    1. Corrupt the youth and give them absolute sexual freedom.

    2. Infiltrate and take control of the mass communication media.

    3. Divide the population into antagonist groups; encourage arguments between them over social issues.

    4. Destroy the people’s confidence in their leaders.

    5. Talk all the time bout democracy and republic, but when the opportunity arises, seize power as a dictator.

    6. Cooperate with the drainage of public funds; discrediting the image of the country, especially overseas, and create panics within the
    population through the launching of an inflationary process.

    7. Encourage strikes, even if they are illegal, in the country’s key industries.

    8. Promote riots while conspire to prevent intervention by law enforcement.

    9. Cooperate actively in destroying the moral foundations of society and honesty and trust in the government’s promises. Infiltrate other parties with your own people, forcing them to vote for what is useful to your own party’s interest.

    10. Register everyone who has firearms, in order to confiscate them when the time comes, preventing them from opposing your revolution.

    (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Seriously an interesting article Dr. I would have missed it had it not been for our X-Ray vision. Taking it home to my spot. Thanks for the great lead. J.C.


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