Should a Marine be court-martialed for refusing to remove a religious message posted at her work station?
Absolutely not, said Houston Attorney J. Mark Brewer of Brewer & Pritchard, P.C.
Brewer and other attorneys on Dec. 28 filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a woman who received a bad conduct discharge after posting a Bible verse in her Camp LeJeune workspace.
Brewer argued the U.S. Marine Corps. violated Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling's rights. The friend-of-the-court brief was sent to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces for review.
According to the brief, Sterling taped a paraphrase of Isaiah 54:17 at three places around her work station: "No weapon formed against me shall prosper."
Attorneys wrote in the brief: "No visitors to Sterling's workplace ever testified that they were 'distracted, annoyed, or agitated' by the verses."
According to the document, a staff sergeant ordered her to remove the verses. When Sterling did not, the sergeant removed and threw them away herself. The next day, Sterling replaced the signs. She was ordered to remove them and refused. The sergeant discarded them, the document stated.
Sterling was charged with disobeying a staff sergeant's order to remove the verses, according to the brief. Sterling argued the orders were in violation of her right to free exercise of religion. But a military trial judge determined the orders were lawful and she was court-martialed, the brief said.
The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA) upheld the military trial judge's decision. The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces agreed on Oct. 28 to review the case, according to the document.
"The order to Marine Lance Corporal Sterling to remove her religious signs was unlawful because it violated the Navy's policies and procedures for handling matters of religious accommodation," according to the friend-of-the-court brief.
In a separate request to file the friend-of-the-court brief, Brewer and the attorneys argued that the issues raised in the case are important for the modern military, which continues to become more diverse.
"Service members (come) from a wide variety of religious, socio-economic, and political backgrounds. Service members need to know that they will be protected by the policies and procedures designed to accommodate these differences while maintaining good order and discipline among service members," attorneys wrote in the document.
The friend-of-the-court brief said the action taken against Sterling was illegal because it targeted her religious beliefs.
"The NMCCA and the military judge clearly believed that Sterling's posting of her signs was a rebellious act designed to antagonize her superiors, rather than a legitimate exercise rooted in religious beliefs," according to the brief.