Congressmen Urge Review of Bible Verse Court-Martial

The ACLJ filed an amicus brief (PDF), joined with 42 members of Congress, urging the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to hear the appeal of discharged US Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling. Sterling received a Bad Conduct Discharge for, among other things, disobeying an order to remove a Bible verse posted on her desk.

From the ACLJ:

The lower court had acknowledged that RFRA extended broad protection to religious liberty, the court adopted a very narrow definition of the statutory term “exercise of religion” and arrived at the startling conclusion that Sterling was not exercising her religion by displaying a Bible verse.

Our brief argues that the lower court’s decision sets military tribunals up as theological experts evaluating the validity of religious beliefs, and clearly violates the First Amendment principle that no court is competent to dissect religious beliefs, or to pass judgment on whether those beliefs are part of a religious belief system.

The lower court’s examination of religious belief was discussed here, as was the appeals court’s digression into hypotheticals about the “divisive impact to good order and discipline” created by being “exposed to biblical quotations.”

As with that discussion, neither the ACLJ nor the Liberty Institute, which is defending Sterling, have asked that the entire case be reversed or dismissed. The only topic raised has been the one about the military’s initial treatement of Sterling’s Bible quotes, as well as the courts’ subsequent application of the law to that specific issue.

On that issue, Sterling’s defenders seem to have some fairly solid ground.