The United States Supreme Court has declined to review the case of former Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling, who claims that she was unfairly convicted at court-martial and discharged from the Marines after she refused to remove cutouts of a paraphrased Bible verse from her work station.
On Monday, the Supreme Court officially declined Sterling's petition for review of her case, which was filed last December after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington ruled against her last August.
Considering the verse that Sterling was asked to remove in May 2013 was a modified version of Isaiah 54:15 that read "no weapon formed against me shall prosper," the appeals court ruled that the context of verses posted at her work station could be seen as "combative" and that Sterling "did not inform the person who ordered her to remove the signs that they had had any religious significance." However, Sterling claimed that she posted the verse at her workstation as a form of comfort from bullying.
"Because the Supreme Court did not decide to review the case, the travesty below by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will now stand," Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty's president and chief counsel, said in a statement. "The military court's outrageous decision means federal judges and military officials can strip our service members of their constitutional rights just because they don't think someone's religious beliefs are important enough to be protected. Our service members deserve better."
"We had hoped the Court would review this case, but we will now work even harder to ensure our nation's brave service members do not lose their religious freedom," Shackelford added.
Sterling, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was court-martialed for a number of offenses. The charges against her included four specifications of disobeying lawful orders, one specification of failing to report to assigned duty and one specification of disrespecting a superior officer.
Sterling said in court testimony that she was repeatedly asked to remove the verses, which she taped in three different spots at her work station. When Sterling refused to take the Bible verses down, they were removed without her permission.
Sterling initially represented herself at her court martial hearing. It was only after she was convicted that she sought the help of the First Liberty Institute to appeal her case to higher courts.
Despite the efforts of the law firm, the appeals court stated in its majority opinion that "having restraints placed on behavior that is religiously motivated does not necessarily equate to either a pressure to violate one's religious beliefs or a substantial burden on one's exercise of religion."
Following the appeals court's decision against Sterling, First Liberty Institute lawyer Mike Berry asserted that "the Supreme Court unanimously said that 'we can't question how sincere [Muhammad Ali's] beliefs are.'"
"That is what the [appeals] court is doing here, basically what sports writers were trying to do to Muhammad Ali," Berry told The Christian Post last year.
Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, the executive vice president of the social conservative advocacy group Family Research Council and former Delta Force commander, said in a statement that the Supreme Court's refusal to hear Sterling's case "has the unfortunate effect of allowing a chill on religious expression in the military to continue."
He added that the Supreme Court's rejection only "only underscores the need for the Trump administration to root out the anti-religious animus allowed to fester in the military during the Obama administration."
"Defense Secretary Mattis must consider the many complex ramifications of anti-religious Obama-era policies that remain in effect," Boykin said. "The DOD and Congress need to ensure the priorities of the U.S. armed forces remain those that the Secretary has outlined: mission readiness, command proficiency, and combat effectiveness — not squelching religion — which is actually quite necessary to readiness and effectiveness. Holdover personnel from the Obama administration need to focus on these priorities, and not on the last administration's social engineering projects that ignore military readiness."