ADF, Chaplain Alliance, Ten States, More File Support for Court-Martialed Marine

The Alliance Defending Freedom and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty have filed an amicus brief on behalf of court-martialed Marine Monifa Sterling. Among other things, Sterling was convicted of disobeying orders for refusing to remove references to a Bible verse from her desk.

In short, the brief (PDF) calls on the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to overturn the lower court ruling that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not apply, which essentially negated Sterling’s defense on that point. The effect, said the ADF’s Daniel Briggs, could be a chilling of religious expression throughout the military:

“No one in our military who goes to work every day to defend our freedoms should then be court-martialed for exercising those very freedoms,” said ADF Legal Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Daniel Briggs, a former Air Force JAG officer. “This case is about Monifa, but it is also about every American who puts on the uniform in service to this country. The question is whether they will be allowed to exercise their faith in the military, or whether they will be denied the same constitutionally protected freedoms they have volunteered to defend and are willing to die for.”

The brief calls for the CAAF to overrule the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals on the issue of religious expression with regard to the lawful order. It does not ask for the entire conviction to be thrown out.

At the same time, the Texas Attorney General recently filed an amicus brief calling for military courts to correct a lower court’s application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In its brief in support of court-martialed Marine Monifa Sterling, Texas AG Ken Paxton said:

Religious freedom is a fundamental right and our nation’s armed forces should not have to compromise their right to religious exercise while serving our country. The failure of the Court of Criminal Appeals to recognize the applicability of RFRA jeopardizes Congress’ efforts to protect religious liberty. We hope the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will clarify the issue and confirm that RFRA protects our troops’ right to religious freedom.

There were five state Attorneys General in June who had supported the case; the latest release indicates 10 total states have filed briefs on Sterling’s behalf.

Further, a long list including the Citizens United Foundation, U.S. Justice Foundation, Faith and Action, and retired Chaplains (LtCol) E. Ray Moore and (CAPT) George P. Byrum filed an amicus (PDF) that said the Marines

violated just about every policy, procedure, standard and rule the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy (of which the Marine Corps is a part) has put in place to govern religious exercise issues.

Their brief also directly addressed a position of Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s MRFF, which filed its own amicus (PDF) last year criticizing Sterling’s position in an attempt to have the appeal not heard.  (Interestingly, Weinstein said he would have defended Sterling had her religious expression been private…but because she “exposed” other Marines to her religious views, he claimed her religious expression was justifiably prohibited.)  Weinstein’s argument was not persuasive, and review was granted.

The MRFF recently tried to file an amicus for the appeal itself, but — despite having a “laser-like focus” on military religious freedom and little else to do — Weinstein missed the filing deadline.  Of the multiple amici filed, only Weinstein’s was refused by the court.