Last year, Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling was court-martialed for refusing to take down a paraphrased Bible verse on her computer. With the help of a non-profit legal organization, she’s planning to fight that ruling with an appeal.
While serving in the Marine Corps, Sterling displayed a paraphrased Bible verse on her computer work station in May 2013 at Camp Lejeune, a 246-square-mile military training facility in North Carolina, Military Times reports.
Military Times reporter Andrew Tilghman detailed, “Sterling taped three paper copies of the same quote — ’No weapon formed against me shall prosper’ — in 28-point type on her computer’s tower, her monitor and her desk.”
A supervisor told her to remove the verse, citing a dislike of the ‘tone’ of the verse. After a refusal, the staff sergeant threw out the verse, and swore at her, according to Sterling’s account.
Sterling soon found herself in court — without outside legal help.
The court rejected Sterling’s argument that the display of the Bible verse was an exercise of religious expression under both the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Once the trial concluded, the service demoted Sterling to a private and she received a bad conduct discharge. According to the court, she disobeyed a lawful order four times and showed disrespect to a superior.
In Sterling’s first appeal, a military judge stated that the verses “could be interpreted as combative … [and] could easily be seen as contrary to good order and discipline.” The appellate court noted that other Marines might be exposed to the verses, and that sort of exposure might endanger good order. However, Sterling was not sharing a desk.
A non-profit group called the Liberty Institute is interested in fighting the decision through filing an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, assigning former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement to the case. The highest military court will make a decision later this year whether to hear the appeal.
“If the government can order a Marine not to display a Bible verse, they could try to order her not to get a religious tattoo, or go to church on Sunday,” Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel, told Fox News. “Restricting a Marine’s free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional.”
Sterling is now unemployed, and given that she has a bad conduct discharge from the military, finding work is that much more difficult.