Today, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed an amicus brief defending the religious liberty rights of Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling. The brief was filed on behalf of the ACLJ, U.S. Members of Congress, and over 175,000 ACLJ members who have joined our Committee to Support Religious Freedom in the Military. In Lance Corporal Sterling’s case, the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Marines could order Lance Corporal Sterling to remove a Bible verse that Sterling had posted in her work station. Sterling, a devout Christian, posted Isaiah 54:17 (“no weapon formed against you shall prosper”) in three places around her work station. The United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals had issued a stunning ruling that Sterling’s posting of Scripture verses in her work space was not an exercise of religion.
Last summer, we filed an amicus brief asking a military appeals court to grant review in the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services, highest military court of appeals, agreed to hear the case.
The brief we filed today on behalf of 35 Members of Congress urged the court to reverse the lower court’s outrageous holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not apply to Ms. Sterling’s case. Citing recent examples of how religious freedoms have been violated in the Armed Services, our brief highlights Congress’s heightened commitment to religious liberty, not only through RFRA but also in recent amendments to the National Defense Authorization Acts. The Marines’ treatment of Lance Corporal Sterling flouts Congress’s clear intention to protect our nation’s service members’ religious liberty rights. As Congressman Doug Lamborn, one of the Congressmen who joined our brief, said in a letter to the Air Force Academy after a similar incident involving the forced removal of scripture verses from a cadet’s living area, “The brave men and women serving to protect the Constitutional rights of all Americans should not have their own Constitutional rights stifled as they carry out that task.”
Our brief also 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.
Led by Congressman John Fleming, other Members of Congress joining in the brief were Senator James Lankford, Representatives John Fleming, Robert Aderholt, Charles W. Boustany, Jr., Jim Bridenstine, Mo Brooks, Doug Collins, Kevin Cramer, Jeff Duncan, John Duncan, Bill Flores, Randy Forbes, Jeff Fortenberry, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Bob Goodlatte, Gregg Harper, Vicky Hartzler, Tim Huelskamp, Bill Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Kelly, Trent Kelly, Steve King, Doug Lamborn, Tom McClintock, Jeff Miller, Pete Olson, Steven Palazzo, Robert Pittenger, Joe Pitts, Keith Rothfus, David Rouzer, Steve Russell, Adrian Smith, and Tim Walberg.
It is critical that the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces reverse this dangerous precedent that threatens the religious liberty of all our Nation’s Service Members.
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