A former navy demobilized more than two years ago for disobeying orders, including not to post Bible verses on her workstation, will appear before the highest military court next week to argue that her religious rights have been defeated. been violated.
In challenging the decision of his court martial judge, former Lance Cpl. Monifa F. Sterling has garnered support from a wide range of religious organizations and dozens of members of Congress who believe the Marine Corps has violated its rights under the Military Religious Restoration Act.
Attorney Michael Berry, former judge advocate general for the Marines and now director of military affairs for the First Liberty Institute, which represents Sterling, said last fall that the case “has the potential to affect the religious freedom of millions. Americans who serve in our armed forces. “
In an interview with McClatchy News Service in October, Berry helped the appeals court’s decision to hear the case marked a victory for Sterling’s many lawyers. Among his supporters are more than 40 members of Congress who weighed in on the case with a friend of the court record.
A similar case was filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and represented various Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders, including military chaplain support agencies.
But while the court will hear Sterling’s argument that the military violated her rights by forcing her to remove Bible verses from her workplace, it will not deal with the other charges she was convicted of in court. martial. These include refusal to wear the uniform ordered by his superior and refusal to report for work.
“The remaining charges are not in dispute in this appeal. The only question before the court is whether the military violated Lance Corporal Sterling’s right to religious liberty by discriminatory forcing her to withdraw. his Bible verses from his workspace “, Daniel Blomberg, Legal Advisor. for the Becket Fund, Military.com said.
Blomberg said the original court ruled against the former Navy’s religious rights argument because it “did not believe that the publication of scripture verses was a religious belief well known enough to be protected, and because he believed that religious discourse was inherently “divisive” and could be censored as a preventive measure.
“Both decisions are unusual, harmful and should be overturned,” said Blomberg.
The court found that in May 2013, Sterling posted the biblical quote, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” above his computer screen, on the computer tower, and on his inbox. After being told to remove them and refused, a non-commissioned officer, identified in court documents as Master Sgt. Alexander, deleted them. Sterling reposted the verse the next day and Alexander deleted them again.
The court, in its decision to punish Sterling with a misconduct discharge, also noted that her defense attorney “essentially argued for a punitive discharge” on the grounds that she wanted to leave the Corps quickly.
Defense attorney’s comments on the sentencing included statements that “Sterling … be punishment that brings fast [LCpl] Sterling’s association with his command and the Marine Corps ends. “
Attorney Bradley Girard of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Sterling’s case had nothing to do with religious freedom in the military. Additionally, Sterling never told his staff sergeant that the verse was from the Bible and that she was publishing it for religious reasons, the AU says in its own court file.
“She didn’t even mention it was religious until her trial, which took place six months later,” Girard said.
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