Marine who was court-martialed for posting Bible verse takes case to Supreme Court

U.S. Marines and sailors stand at attention while the Marines' Hymn plays during an award ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 22, 2013. | Wikimedia Commons/Lance Cpl. Alexander Hill

Monifa Sterling, a U.S. Marine who was court-martialed for refusing to remove Bible verses displayed at her desk, has petitioned for an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday.

Sterling, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was ordered by a superior officer to remove a printed paraphrase of Isaiah 54:17, which reads, "No weapon formed against me shall prosper." The officer, who felt that the verse was confrontational and antagonistic, tore it down when she refused to remove it.

She was court-martialed after she reprinted the verse and reposted it in her workspace. Sterling, who represented herself during the prosecution, argued that the order was unlawful because it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law that protects religious expression.

She was convicted and dishonorably discharged from the military, which makes her ineligible for veterans benefits.

According to Daily Caller, the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The court ruled against Sterling, arguing that the order is not a "substantial burden" on religious expression.

Sterling's lawyers from the First Liberty Institute argued that the court should have adopted a broader definition of "substantial burden."

"Ms. Sterling posted the Bible verse as an expression of her faith — an expression which should have been protected under RFRA," said Mike Berry, the Institute's military affairs director.

"We hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will take her case and uphold her right to religious freedom, setting a clear precedent for all service members and their future expressions of faith within our military," he added.

The justices are expected to vote in early 2017 whether to take on the case. Former solicitor general Paul Clement of Kirkland and Ellis is serving as the leader of Sterling's legal team.

According to Chris Rodda, a senior research director at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), Sterling faced several other charges at her court martial.

In a blog post published by The Huffington Post, Rodda said that Sterling was found guilty of failing to go to her appointed place of duty and disrespecting a commissioned officer.

Rodda claimed that Sterling was also charged with disobeying direct orders to wear a proper uniform.