Former Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling lost her appeal over a court-martial and "bad-conduct discharge" in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on Aug. 10.
Sterling was court-martialed over six violations in 2014, one of which included an incident where she had three signs in her workplace area that paraphrased a verse from the Bible: "No weapon formed against me shall prosper."
According to The Associated Press, Sterling's defense (by the First Liberty Institute) was that the military violated her Christian beliefs.
However, the appeals court ruled that Sterling did not tell her supervisor that the signs had religious importance, so the supervisor was right to remove them.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Christian law firm that filed a legal brief on behalf of Sterling, stated on its website on Aug. 11 that the appeals court had ruled that service men and women "can be punished for exercising their religion if judges deem the practice not religiously 'important.'"
Daniel Blomberg, a lawyer with the Becket Fund, said:
This is a real-life example of why judges shouldn’t play theologians. 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 [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] protects all religious beliefs, not just beliefs that government officials deem "important."
However, there was quite a bit more to Sterling's case, according to Chris Rodda of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Rodda noted on The Huffington Post in January that Sterling was court-martialed in February 2014 for several violations that happened over five months, such as "failing to go to her appointed place of duty, disrespecting a commissioned officer, and disobeying direct orders from her superiors to wear the proper uniform."
Rodda wrote that Sterling refused to give out passes to family members who were visiting Marines because of headache issues caused by her own choice not to take medication.
According to Rodda, Sterling also refused to accept the passes that were handed to her by a major, who called her behavior "the most disrespectful thing [he] had witnessed from a Marine of junior rank."
In another instance, Sterling asserted that she did not have to wear a specific uniform due to a medical device that she had to wear for a back issue, which was later found not to be true by the military brass, noted Rodda.
Rodda confirmed that Sterling did refuse an order to remove signs that paraphrased a Bible verse in her work area, but added that was not the only reason Sterling was punished.