Camp Lejune, NC – Lance Corporal (LCpl) Monifa Sterling was recently criminally prosecuted at a court-martial for displaying a Bible verse on her desktop while at Camp Lejune, NC. Representing herself in court, Sterling referenced her First Amendment right of religious expression, and the protection that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) offers her.
Both the trial and the appellate court claimed that the display of the Bible verse did not fall under the RFRA because it is not considered a religious act. Sterling and the Liberty Institute lawyers who now represent her disagree.
“If the government can order a Marine not to display a Bible verse, they could try and order her not to get a religious tattoo, or go to church on Sunday,” says Mike Berry, the Liberty Institute Director of Military Affairs and Sterling’s senior counsel. “Restricting a Marine’s free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional.”
LCpl Sterling and other service members at Camp Lejune were accustomed to posting personal items in their workstations. In three different locations, Sterling taped Isaiah 54:17, which states, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper.”
Sterling’s supervisor and former drill instructor took issue with the Scripture, and ordered her to take the verse down immediately, and allegedly used profanity during the demand. When Sterling questioned the request, her supervisor said, “I don’t like the tone.” Sterling said that she would not remove the Bible verse because it was her constitutional right to display it.
The following day, Sterling was charged with disobeying a direct order, and her Bible verse was forcibly removed from her station. “If a service member has a right to display a secular poster, put an atheist bumper sticker on their car, or get a Star of David tattoo,” explains Berry, “then Lance Corporal Sterling has the right to display a small Bible verse on her computer monitor,” said Hiram Sasser, an attorney with the Liberty Institute.
Sterling was discharged for bad conduct and stripped of rank from Lance Corporal to Private. She says that it has been difficult to find a job because of her history of bad standing with the military. The Liberty Institute is hopeful that the charges against Sterling will be removed.