Burdened by the taint of a bad-conduct discharge, Monifa Sterling — who was once a lance corporal in the United States Marines — says she is now unable to find work. Her life, her livelihood, and her reputation have been forever changed because of seven words printed in tiny font on a small strip of paper — seven words closely approximating a Bible verse that Sterling says she taped in three places on her work desk to give her strength as she performed her military duties.
The words that Monifa Sterling displayed on her desk at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina were: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” That’s essentially part of what’s found in Isaiah 54:17, which reads, in the King James version of the Bible: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”
As Fox News reports, when Sterling refused an order from a staff sergeant to remove the strips of paper on which the seven words were printed, she was brought up on charges and convicted at a court-martial for engaging in conduct that the military ruled “could easily be seen as contrary to good order and discipline.”
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At her trial in February 2014, Sterling represented herself, arguing that her First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected her expression of faith. She lost the argument; the court-martial found that others using the desk at which Sterling sat, as well as those passing by, could see the words and be made to feel uncomfortable. Sterling was punished with a bad-conduct discharge and reduction in rank from lance corporal to private.
As The Fox News report notes, even higher courts ruled against the Marine: “Both lower court and the appellate court ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not apply to her case because displaying a Bible verse does not constitute religious exercise.”
But Monifa Sterling’s battle to reclaim her reputation and her rank is not over. The attorney who recently won a Supreme Court victory for Hobby Lobby in its religious freedom fight against the Affordable Care Act has taken on Sterling’s case. Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, along with legal counsel from the Liberty Institute, will argue that Sterling’s right to express her religious belief in a reasonable manner was violated by the military’s actions.
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A constitutional law firm, Liberty Institute’s mission is described on its website: “to defend and restore religious liberty across America—in our schools, for our churches, inside the military, and throughout the public arena.” Todd Starnes of Fox News spoke with one of the lawyers for the organization, Hiram Sasser, who told Starnes:
“This is a very scary time when you are not allowed to have a very small printed Bible verse in your own personal workspace because it might offend other Marines,” Sasser told me. “Our Marines are trained to deal with some of the most hostile people on the planet. I don’t think they are afraid of tiny words on a tiny piece of paper.”
As Monifa Sterling’s case proceeds, it will be interesting to see if, in a legal sense, the slightly altered Bible verse she posted will prove prophetic: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
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