WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – The military’s top court upheld a ruling Wednesday over a Marine discharged for failing to remove a Bible verse posted in her shared work area.
In a 4-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does not apply to the case of former Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling.
In 2014, Sterling was convicted in a court-martial at Camp Lejeune, N.C. She was charged with disrespecting a superior commissioned officer and four counts of disobeying a lawful order.
She was reduced in rank and her discharge will mark her record for life, making her ineligible for veterans benefits such as the G.I. Bill.
Sterling had taped a single Bible verse three times in various locations about her cubicle. Her superior asked her to remove the verse because, according to Sterling, the Staff Sergeant “did not like the signs’ tone.” She was charged after refusing to obey the order.
The verse was similar to Isaiah 54:17 and read: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
The actual verse reads: “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.”
She said she posted the quotations because she is a Christian, and co-workers were picking on her, a claim her supervisors refuted, according to court documents.
The court found, just as the lower Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals did last year, that Sterling “did not inform the person who ordered her to remove the signs that they had had any religious significance” at the time and the verse’s “religious connotation was neither revealed nor raised until mid-trial.”
Michael Berry, Sterling’s lead attorney, said that he intends to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Berry said that the court’s ruling was flawed because “it ruled that an order to remove a Bible verse from Sterling’s workspace was not a substantial burden on her religious exercise.”
“The court indicated that displaying a Bible verse as a source of comfort or refuge during the daily rigors of military life is somehow not important to their religious belief,” Berry said in an email.
“This decision is disturbing because it sets a dangerous precedent for people of faith in the military. Federal courts have recently held that RFRA applies to private citizens, churches, universities, and even businesses. But if you’re in the military, you have to meet a much higher standard to enjoy RFRA’s protection,” he added.
The RFRA is a 1993 federal law that protects wide-ranging freedom of religious expression.
“Respect for freedom of religion is something that the Department takes very seriously and is committed to,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Gordon Trowbridge said Friday.