Can Marines have Bible verses at workstations? Apparently not. Bible verses are not “religiously important.” What does that even mean?
Washington, D.C. – The military’s highest court ruled yesterday [August 10th] that men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces can be punished for exercising their religion if judges deem the practice not religiously “important.” The ruling upholds the government’s criminal prosecution of a U.S. Marine for refusing to discard personal notes that had Bible verses on them. The case may now be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2014, Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was ordered to remove from her workstation three pieces of paper with a paraphrase from the Book of Isaiah, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” even though co-workers were permitted to keep nonreligious messages on their desks. She declined and was court-martialed. A lower court upheld Sterling’s court martial, rejecting her argument that her faith was protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“This is a real-life example of why judges shouldn’t play theologians,” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel of the Becket Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Lance Corporal. “Here, a few judges concluded that keeping scripture nearby isn’t ‘important,’ even though more than half of the world’s population belong to religions that teach the exact opposite. Avoiding obvious errors like this is why RFRA protects all religious beliefs, not just beliefs that government officials deem ‘important.’”
I’m pretty sure you can’t disobey an order from a superior officer, but this is clearly a balance between competing rights and responsibilities. Veterans and service members will have more to add, and I hope they do in the underused comment section.
The other case I looked at this weekend is the Washington State football coach who was fired for praying after each game on the 50 yard line. Look here.