Opinion

US Marine discharged over tiny Bible verse fights for her future

A United States Marine court-martialed and convicted for refusing to remove a Bible verse from her government office is now fighting to win back her good name.

According to Fox News columnist Todd Starnes, Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling was given a bad conduct discharge and a reduction in rank after she refused an order to remove three slips of paper containing the same passage of scripture from her desk by her commanding officer, a staff sergeant.

When the sergeant removed the slips herself, according to court documents, Sterling replaced them. When the sergeant again ordered her to remove the slips, Sterling did not, so the sergeant again removed them.

The verse, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” seemed fairly benign. But her commanding officer decided that having merely originated from the Bible qualified it for censorship, and Sterling’s court martial judge as well as an appeals court agreed.

The military courts decided that her display of scripture “could easily be seen as contrary to good order and discipline,” and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could not be used as a defense because displaying a verse from the Bible is not strictly a religious exercise.

The court also cited other conflicts between Sterling and her command, such as disputes over medical issues.

However, Sterling is now being represented by the Liberty Institute, a national law firm that specializes in religious freedom cases, and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who recently won a Supreme Court case against the Affordable Care Act on behalf of Hobby Lobby.

Liberty Institute attorney Hiram Sasser told Starnes that “this is a very scary time when you are not allowed to have a very small printed Bible verse in your own personal workspace because it might offend other Marines.”

Besides, it’s not as if Marines are known for having terribly fragile feelings. As Sasser pointed out, “Our Marines are trained to deal with some of the most hostile people on the planet. I don’t think they are afraid of tiny words on a tiny piece of paper.”

Sterling’s case arguably demonstrates a disturbing belief among the left that the First Amendment does not apply to personal beliefs that might offend certain minority groups. While the overwhelming majority of Sterling’s colleagues would likely be in favor of or at most agnostic toward her chosen Bible verse, the mere possibility that someone could potentially be upset ended up getting her disciplined.

The court further stated that because other Marines might occasionally have to conduct work at her desk, the scripture could potentially infringe upon their rights to be free from religious displays. The right to censor people, even soldiers, into secularism seems to be the very type of danger the First Amendment was meant to guard against.

The Marine Corps, the nation’s founding documents, and even the court building where Sterling appealed her discharge, are full of subtle and overt references to religious beliefs. One Bible verse shouldn’t be grounds for ending a Marine’s career.

Michael Schaus

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