The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has just agreed to hear a major religious liberty case, United States v. Sterling, which could have a dramatic impact for the religious liberty of our brave men and women in uniform.
In this case, Lance Corporal Sterling, a devout Christian, posted a Bible verse, Isaiah 54:17 (“no weapon formed against you shall prosper”), in three places around her work station. As we previously reported:
Sterling’s superior officer saw the scripture verses, “did not like their tone,” and told Sterling to “remove that,” referring to the Bible verse as a profanity that we will not repeat. When Sterling refused, her superior officer removed the verses and threw them in the trash.
She was then court martialed. In a shocking decision, a Marines court held that Sterling’s superior officer could order her to remove those Bible verses because Sterling was “not exercising her religion” when she posted them. The Marines court held further that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was inapplicable. In fact, as we noted before, the court actually held “that Sterling’s Bible verse postings were motivated by ‘subjective beliefs’ that were not legitimately ‘part of a religious belief system.’”
The Marines court’s decision set a dangerous precedent which threatened religious liberty for all of the nation’s men and women in uniform, and so three months ago, the ACLJ filed an amicus brief urging the highest military appeals court to grant review to overturn this ominous ruling.
Filed on behalf of 42 Members of Congress and over 142,000 concerned Americans, our brief argued that Congress intended RFRA to apply to the United States Military and that Sterling’s posting of scripture verses at her work station was certainly an exercise of Sterling’s religion sufficient to trigger RFRA’s protection.
Joining in the brief were Senator James Lankford, and Representatives John Fleming, Robert Aderholt, Brian Babin, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Charles W. Boustany, Jr., Jim Bridenstine, Bradley Byrne, Doug Collins, Kevin Cramer, Jeff Duncan, Bill Flores, Randy Forbes, Jeff Fortenberry, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Bob Goodlatte, Gregg Harper, Vicky Hartzler, Jeb Hensarling, Jody Hice, Tim Huelskamp, Bill Johnson, Sam Johnson, Walter Jones, Jim Jordan, Mike Kelly, Trent Kelly, Steve King, Doug Lamborn, Mia Love, Tom McClintock, Jeff Miller, Dan Newhouse, Steven Palazzo, Robert Pittenger, Keith Rothfus, Steve Russell, Steve Scalise, Chris Smith, Tim Walberg, and Joe Wilson.
This week, the military appeals court issued an order granting review and asking the parties to brief the issue whether the Marines violated Lance Corporal Sterling’s religious liberty rights. The ACLJ will continue this very important fight, and is now preparing another amicus brief to be filed with the appellate court.
It is vital that the American people stand with us in continuing this battle to protect the religious freedom rights of our military.
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