Aug 10, 2016

A former Marine’s claims of religious persecution were groundless, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces was right to rule against her, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling received a bad-conduct discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) in 2014 after a court-martial found she had repeatedly violated orders. According to her superiors, she neglected to report for duty and failed to wear the required uniform. She also posted three signs reading “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” at her official workstation, and she twice refused to take them down.

The signs were a biblical reference, but Sterling did not inform anyone that they were religious until her court-martial – six months after she was ordered to take them down. During her court-martial, Sterling claimed that posting the signs was an exercise of her right to religious freedom, as guaranteed by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and so the order to remove the signs was unlawful. The officials who presided over the court-martial didn’t buy her excuse, and she was convicted.

In a legal brief, Americans United argued that the USMC acted within its rights to punish Sterling for refusing to remove the signs.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, applauded the court’s decision today.

“Our military can’t function effectively when service-members like Monifa Sterling repeatedly break the rules,” Lynn said. “She received the appropriate punishment for her actions, and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services protected both the integrity of RFRA and military justice in its verdict today.”

The case is United States v. Sterling. Americans United’s brief was prepared by Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and Steven Gey Fellow Bradley Girard. Jewish Social Policy Action Network and People For the American Way Foundation joined in the brief.