Court Rules Against Biblical Phrase in Workspace

From foxnews.com:

A former Marine court-martialed in part for refusing to remove a biblical phrase from her workspace lost her appeal on Wednesday, when a federal court concluded the orders from her superiors did not constitute a “substantial burden” on her First Amendment rights.

Monifa Sterling, who was a lance corporal stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was court-martialed for various offenses relating to separate incidents – including disrespecting a superior officer, disobeying lawful orders, and failing to report to an assigned duty.

But the part of the case that fueled her court challenge involved orders to remove a personalized version of the biblical phrase from Isiah 54:17: “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper.”

Sterling taped the verses in three spots on her workspace. Court testimony said Sterling’s superior repeatedly ordered her to remove the signs — and when she refused, trashed them.

In its 4-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces turned away Sterling’s case.

“We reject the argument that every interference with a religiously motivated act constitutes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion,” the court said.

First Liberty Institute, the legal advocacy group representing Sterling, indicated it would appeal to the Supreme Court in coming weeks.

Her superior got twisted over, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper,” in her personal workspace?? How in the world does that interfere with military discipline?

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  • pennywit
    • WHO’S THE BUSTER

      The link offers a lot of perspective. Thanks.

    • pennywit

      I’m inclined to agree with Hemant Mehta’s characterization of the situation. The most salient points, from my perspective:

      1) The appellant didn’t articulate to her superiors that the biblical quote was religious in nature. The court notes that the RFRA issue was not raised until the matter was already at trial. IMO, she ought to have requested a RFRA accommodation from her superior immediately.

      2) The desk was not merely her desk; it was shared with another junior Marine. Posting Bible quotes on the desk you use is one thing. Posting them on a desk you share with someone else is quite another.

      3) The appellant had a number of other issues that led to her discharge, of which the religious quotation’s placement is only one.

      • Scalia

        Thanks for the link, but I don’t think it changes anything substantive.

        1) Her disciplinary issues justified a court-marshal. The verse in question did not need to be included.

        2) The fact she shared the workspace cannot count for our against any party unless we know whether said co-worker objected to said verse. It appears nobody but her superior objected.

        3) The fact that religion may have been brought up later does not prevent the court from addressing the religious liberty issue…

        In the majority opinion, the judges noted that because Sterling did not indicate until during her trial that the signs had any religious significance to her, the words on the signs could have been interpreted as being “combative in tone.” They concluded the order to remove the signs was valid and did not place a “substantial burden” on her exercise of religion.

        But in a dissenting opinion, Judge Kevin A. Ohlson argued that, in its decision, the CAAF went far beyond what was necessary to decide Sterling’s case and imposed “a legal framework that unnecessarily curtails the religious freedom of our nation’s service members.”

        Ohlson argued the lower court—the Navy Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA)—incorrectly applied RFRA in Sterling’s case by not adequately determining whether her conduct “was sincerely founded on her religious beliefs.” In other words, the NMCCA failed to establish “whether LCpl Sterling was engaged in ‘religious exercise’—the very first prong of RFRA.” In Ohlson’s opinion, the CAAF should have remanded the case back to the NMCCA.

        Ohlson concluded “the majority’s analysis of the underlying legal issue raises the prospect that other service members in the future may be subjected to conviction at court-martial for merely engaging in religious exercise that is entitled to protection under [RFRA].”

        • Commander_Chico

          Military workspaces, like military clothing, are uniform and not personal expressions.

          The “personalized” verse was a statement of defiance.

          • Scalia

            Not according to the RFRA.

          • Commander_Chico

            The dissenting opinion is the losing opinion.

          • Scalia

            The dissenting opinion is the losing opinion.

            Boy, nothing gets by Chico.

            Even the dissent said this was questionable as an exercise of religion.

            That wasn’t for them to decide. Since it wasn’t established in the lower court, they should have remanded the case.

            As I stated, the other issues justified disciplinary action—no question there, but that’s separate from the RFRA.

            She even got the Bible verse wrong: The correct wording is “No weapon formed against Thee shall prosper.” So she put “me” – herself in place of God.

            Sigh. Biblical exegesis isn’t your forte, is it, Chico? Here’s the full verse:

            Isaiah 54
            17. 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.

            It’s a promise to God’s people that no weapon formed against them would prosper. God is assuring His people that they would have His protection because their righteousness comes Him.

            As respected biblical commentators Keil & Delitzsch write:

            Jerusalem will be thus invincible, because Jehovah, the Almighty One, is its protector. “Behold, I have created the smith who bloweth the coal-fire, and brings to the light a weapon according to his trade; and I have created the destroyer to destroy. Every weapon formed against thee has no success, and every tongue that cometh before the judgment with thee thou wilt condemn. This the inheritance of the servants of Jehovah; and their righteousness from me, saith Jehovah.”

            If Jehovah has created the armourer, who forges a weapon לְמַעֲסֵהוּ (i.e., according to his trade, or according to the thing he has to finish, whether an arrow, or a sword, or a spear; not “for his own use,” as Kimchi supposes), to be used in the hostile army against Jerusalem, He has also created a destroyer (לְחַבֵּל) to destroy. The very same creative might, to which the origin of the weapon is to be traced as its primary cause, has opposed to it beforehand a defender of Jerusalem. And as every hostile weapon fails, Jerusalem, in the consciousness of its divine right, will convict every accusing tongue as guilty and deserving of utter condemnation.

          • Commander_Chico

            She substituted “me” for “thee” thereby showing who was really at the center of her universe.

            Given that the quote was wrong, and she didn’t raise the religious freedom issue at trial, htf does this become a cause célèbre amongst Bible beaters? Do they just want to undermine good order and discipline in the armed forces? Weaken America?

            I guess the next private can just say “Fuck you sarge, things of this world are an illusion, and I ain’t cleaning that toilet” and say it was the Bhagavad Gita that told him so

          • Scalia

            You said the RFRA applied. The court said no.

            You miss the point (as usual). You insisted that the military is another ball of wax when it comes to the RFRA. My point is that the military is subject to it whether or not this woman’s claim is valid.

            She substituted “me” for “thee” thereby showing who was really at the center of her universe.

            Since the verse applies to God’s people, there is nothing wrong with her personalization thereof, and that doesn’t excuse your woeful misinterpretation of that verse.

            Given that the quote was wrong, and she didn’t raise the religious freedom issue at trial, htf does this become a cause célèbre amongst Bible beaters?

            The quote was not wrong (in the sense that it is applicable to her if she’s a child of God), but even if it was, that does not defeat a religious objection. She was not required under the law to state her religious views up front. The key is whether or not her beliefs are sincere in a legal sense. The court should have remanded that to the lower court which failed to make that finding.

            Do they just want to undermine good order and discipline in the armed forces? Weaken America?

            More hyperbole from you. Since none of her co-workers objected to what she posted, you’re firing blanks.

          • pennywit

            By the way, I can’t believe I’m simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with you.

          • Scalia

            Why? It’s all or nothing? 😉

          • Commander_Chico

            Your original post: Her superior got twisted over, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper,” in her personal workspace?? How in the world does that interfere with military discipline?

            “Me” not “thee.”

            It’s obvious how it interfered with military discipline in the context of her continual insubordination.

            It’s obvious that you don’t understand the concept of good order and discipline and how letting one insubordinate Marine challenge her chain of command is destructive to unit morale.

            It’s obvious that you did not know all of the facts of the case when you posted this topic. You bought the bullshit you read on the right-wing media, now you’re backtracking.

          • Scalia

            What’s obvious is your reading comprehension (or lack thereof). The religious accommodation is separate from her other issues. How many times does that have to be explained? Are you saying that a person loses all h/er rights if she’s insubordinate? For what may be the fourth time now, if she were insubordinate, a court-marshal is fine. That does not mean she loses her religious rights.

          • Commander_Chico

            The religious accomodation is separate from the other issues of military discipline only because you say so. Speaking about reading comprehension, did you read the opinion?

            The court did not see it that way. Four to one they said that in the context of her insubordination her quotes placed a burden on the order and discipline of the unit and removing them did not on balance burden her religious practice enough to warrant any accomodation.

            This is the usual Scalia game of demanding that an issue only be talked about only as Scalia frames it, with only the facts Scalia agrees to. Total FAIL on this topic.

          • Scalia

            The usual Chico game of demanding that an issue be talked about only as Chico frames it.

            You’ve shown your stupidity enough here, but you’re too stupid to realize it. You can’t even properly interpret one Bible verse, let alone the law.

            I know good and well that four judges disagree with me. That won’t stop me from expressing my opinion. You’re upset because I disagree with you and because you’ve put your foot in your mouth several times now.

            You pretend that you support the decision, but we’ve all read where you denied a religious exemption for workspace Bible verses, so even you stand opposed to ALL the judges in this case. If they had found that the appellant held a sincere belief, they would have ruled in her favor and Chico would be foaming at the mouth (a usual malady for you). So, get off your high horse about “the majority.” You couldn’t care less.

          • Commander_Chico

            Now you’re playing the Jim m game of putting words in my mouth.

            I support the majority decision, which is that in the context of her insubordination the bible verse could be seen as contumacious and the order to remove it did not burden her religious practice in the balance with the need to maintain military discipline.

            What gets me is how you, and the rest of the “Christian conservatives” have totally distorted and hidden the facts of this case, to the point of lies and the denigration of the armed forces. NONE of the right wing outlets report the fact that she was a crazy shitbag who refused to do her job or even wear the uniform. How “Christian” is it to lie by omission, and how “conservative” is it to place Sterling’s Marine commanders in a false light? Disgusting.

          • Scalia

            Bad attempt at reframing your position. I didn’t put words in your mouth. You clearly stated your position here that personal workspace is not a place for private expression in the military. That puts you at odds with every member of the court, so flapping your buzzard wings about being in the majority is just so much static coming from your mouth.

            Everybody’s got their opinion, and I’ve got mine. I think caselaw is on my side.

            What galls you is you’ve been shown to be a complete doofus again, so you’re lashing out in a vain attempt to cover how stupid you’ve been.

          • Commander_Chico

            You’re personally insulting me, while you defamed the Marine Corps with this post. I can take it.

            Absolutely there are limits on personal expression in the military workplace. There is a very narrow window for personal expression which limits military member’s workplace expression far more than the First Amendment does.

            Would an innocuous quote from the Psalms, like “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” be ok? Probably. Innocuous. Chaplains in the military usually hew to a non-sectarian, unitarian line.

            What about pacifist or antiwar quotes from the bible, what about quotes about stoning homosexuals? What about overtly sectarian quotes against other faiths?

            The Commander has to have the discretion to decide, and can’t “accomodate” every religious nut, give them a transfer or discharge, or litigate the issue endlessly. That is a fact that a non-veteran cannot understand.

          • Scalia

            Don’t talk to me about being a non-veteran. My dad was a combat veteran and retired from the Army. I know what the regs are and that personal expression isn’t limitless.

            As far as personal insults go, are you the pot or the kettle? If you don’t like them, then quit spewing them. You get what you deserve. If you tried to debate with a modicum of decency, you would be treated likewise.

          • Commander_Chico

            Ok you agree with me. You know the regs. You know there are limitations on religious expression in the military context.

            This whole story in the “christian conservative” media defamed the Marine Corps by not putting the distorted bible verse in context and making this crazy bitch a hero.

          • Scalia

            Very limited agreement. I do not agree that insubordination, in itself, negates one’s religious rights. I think that if a finding was made that her beliefs are insincere, then she cannot carry a legal claim for the same. I very much disagree that this court had the authority to make that finding. That was in the lower court’s purview which is why it should have been remanded. I disagree with several critical elements of the majority’s decision.

            Now, if I’ve read you correctly, you disagree with Roe v. Wade. That was a 7-2 decision, but the fact that seven justices disagree with Chico does not obligate Chico to agree with them. Ditto here.

          • Commander_Chico

            Ok you disagree with me. Fine. I do not expect every sergeant or petty officer to be a constititional lawyer and have to parse some dirtbag’s insubordination just because they throw out a bible torah gita or koran quote to attack military authority. You do.

            The fact remains that right wing media distorted this case and defamed the Marines.

          • pennywit

            No, Scalia is right on RFRA extending to the military, even if there is a dispute as to whether RFRA applies specifically to this case. RFRA specifically extends to the military. (See, for example, some of the religious accommodations recently extended to Sikh soldiers).

          • Commander_Chico

            The accomodations were extended how many years after RFRA? The scope of RFRA in the military is limited because of strong countervailing value of GOD – good order and discipline.

            Civilian non-veteran lawyers don’t get it.

          • pennywit

            If a service member seeks a religious accommodation, it is up to the military to demonstrate that prohibiting the conduct furthers a compelling government interest, and that the prohibition is the least restrictive mans of advancing that interest. That’s RFRA”s black-letter law. You can argue the merits of a particular case, but you can’t argue that the black-letter law is invalid.

            Non-lawyers just don’t get it.

          • Commander_Chico

            So you agree with Scalia that this is a gross imposition on religious freedom, or that the scope of how you can express yourself in the military is necessarily limited due to discipline and unit cohesion?

          • pennywit

            I agree with neither of you.

            I do not consider this case an imposition on religious freedom, in part because she raised the allegation post hoc and I have questions about the sincerity of her religious belief. And while I think that First Amendment rights can be cabined in the military for the reasons you describe, I do not agree with your assertion that they should be limited vastly, and I do not accept a simple declaration of “discipline and unit cohesion” as an automatic bar to a RFRA claim.

          • Ken in Camarillo

            Doesn’t the fact that she quoted a Bible verse strongly imply that it relates to her religious beliefs?

          • Commander_Chico

            Yeah just like this.
            https://youtu.be/pvAhRcUofDk

          • Ken in Camarillo

            How ironic that you would choose an example using that scripture. That scripture is a description of how the Lord is going to exact vengeance on the Philistines “Because the Philistines dealt vengefully and took vengeance with a spiteful heart, to destroy because of the old hatred (against Israel and Judah, His chosen people).

            At the beginning of the chapter the Lord describes the consequences for the Ammonites “because you clapped your hands, stamped your feet, and rejoiced in heart with all your disdain for the land of Israel (His chosen people)

            Think what that message implies for people who today celebrate the travails of His believers.

          • Ken in Camarillo

            As to the overall case: the articles I’ve seen that support her don’t mention the other complaints against her. The articles that mention the other complaints seemed believable. Therefore I accept that there were other complaints against her that were valid, that justify her sentence.

            However, it seems that the religious issue should have been disregarded, receiving no attention from the court, as the other complaints were the major issues. The court’s ruling on the religious issue seems gratuitous and thrown in because the judge(s) wanted to take a wack at religious rights.

          • Commander_Chico

            As to the overall case: the articles I’ve seen that support her don’t mention the other complaints against her.

            Yep, which is why the whole controversy is a defamation of her superiors, the Marine Corps and military justice in general. It’s called “lying by omission.” These “Christian conservatives” were attacking the Marines Corps, portraying them in a false light and causing fools to become outraged and call their congresspeople, and send these “Christian” lawyer-thieves money.

            The Court had to address the issue of her mangled Bible quote (I do not regard it as a “religious” issue, she was just playing head games in the workplace and defying her sergeants and officers), because all of these sham Bible beating organizations made it a big issue.

            They lost, commanders will have the discretion to maintain military discipline in the workplace.

          • Commander_Chico

            The point was that just like “Marcus,” people throw around Bible quotes for profane purposes, not religious ones.

      • Commander_Chico

        The Patheos article makes it pretty clear that this whole case has been distorted by the right wing Bible beaters, for the purpose of fundraising.

        They create fear and hysteria by distorting the facts, then get suckers like the old lady who lived next to me in Norfolk, used to send her money to Jim Bakker, and Scalia to send them checks to “protect religious freedom.”

        No different than the SPLC and liberal groups finding Klansmen and Nazis under every bed, just to fund their nice jobs.

        • Scalia

          They create fear and hysteria by distorting the facts, then get suckers like the old lady who lived next to me in Norfolk, used to send her money to Jim Bakker, and Scalia to send them checks to “protect religious freedom.”

          So far, they haven’t received a penny from me, and I don’t plan on writing a check anytime soon.

          I agree that she’s not a poster child for religious liberty, but you’re not even in the ballpark when it comes to this case. Again, her disciplinary issues are separate from the religious liberty question before the court. In fact, why is it that you and others like you fall all over yourselves to point out her disciplinary problems if not to justify denying her appeal? In other words, if she were a model of obedience and had immediately made it known that she was acting out of religious conviction (not required under the law), you would have no basis denying her an accommodation under the RFRA.

          Even pennywit, pursuant to another conversation, doesn’t object to religious items in one’s personal space on government property. A critical component for defense is whether the belief is “sincere.” A person who has disciplinary problems does not lose h/er constitutional rights.

          • Commander_Chico

            “You and others like you” do not understand the military context in which this played out. Girl refused to wear the uniform, lied about the reasons why, refused to report to work as ordered, and posted a mangled quote of an obscure Bible verse that could be interpreted as a “fuck you” by her superiors and she’s supposed to get a new trial? Oh, and she acted as her own lawyer too bad, so sad. This is why the military justice system is different – to keep minor cases from clogging the system.

            The judges got it right.

          • Scalia

            And you’re again showing you have reading comprehension issues. That question has been addressed multiple times here.

    • pennywit

      For additional reading, here is a link to the court’s opinion:

      https://www.dropbox.com/s/ldsf9jbgt6wqmwt/Sterling-Opinion.pdf?dl=0

      • Commander_Chico

        Wow, some real facts instead of spin bullshit!

    • jim_m

      I have to admit that the religious liberty defense seems to be a defense of convenience brought in as a last resort rather than being a true and honest representation of the defendant’s actions.

      • Scalia

        You are perhaps correct in that assessment, but I think you’ll agree that the legal issue before the court is separate from the motivation of the appellant. The lower court failed to examine that question, and that’s why it should have been remanded. Moreover, even the majority acknowledges that it applied “a fundamentally flawed definition of what constitutes religious conduct under RFRA. The CCA’s decision thus deprived LCpl Sterling of a properly conducted review or her case under Article 66(c), Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C 866 (2012).”

        • jim_m

          Yes, but I think the defendant’s failure to assert those rights at the time that she was asked to remove the offending quotes is probably what lead the court to overlook that part of the defense.

          I just think this is a bad case to be pushing the religious freedom aspect since it is likely to lose and I would be concerned about a real erosion of religious liberty as a result.

  • Commander_Chico

    Military workspaces, like military clothing, are uniform and not personal expressions.

  • yetanotherjohn

    (Dons asbestos’s suit preparing to be flamed)
    I think the court got this right. The key phrase is “substantial burden”.
    Consider the following.
    An adherent to Aphrodite (a religion literally thousands of years old) decides to adorn their workplace with religious symbols (namely nude pictures).
    A pastafarian decides their religion requires them to leave spaghetti and meatballs on their desk to appease the pastafarian deities, even when the deities seem to refuse the offering and the meal is rotting.

    I could go on and on with ever more bizarre examples that interfere with others in the workplace more and more. To say that there is a link of the activity to a religious belief is an absolute shield is not a rational path.

    On the other hand, I suspect that the biblical verse was a handy club to beat with on both sides.

    • Scalia

      I could go on and on with ever more bizarre examples that interfere with others in the workplace more and more.

      No need for the asbestos suit. 😉

      Sterling wasn’t interfering with her co-workers. Nobody but her superior objected to her display. If a religious act truly interferes with a unit’s operation, then the believer in question must be transferred if a reasonable accommodation cannot be found. That’s the standard approach in accommodation cases.

      • Commander_Chico

        She was interfering with “good order and discipline.”

        • Scalia

          <i<"She was interfering with "good order and discipline."

          Not with a Bible verse.

          No, you don’t get to transfer that easily.

          That’s the law regarding accommodation. The point is that a religious objection does not carry if said objection interferes with the operation of a unit.

          Military is not like civilian employment.

          Phenomenal grasp of the obvious, Chico.

          • Commander_Chico

            Show me a case where someone gets to transfer to accomodate religious practice. Unit manning and integrity is core to military readiness. Can’t replace a trained unit member of any speciality that easily.

            When I state the obvious, it’s because you don’t seem to understand it.

          • Scalia

            There are only three options: accommodation, transfer or discharge.

          • Commander_Chico

            4. Or unit punishment or court martial for contumacious expressions against military authority.

          • Scalia

            No, that doesn’t work. You asked me to show you “where someone gets to transfer to accommodate religious practice.” We are thus considering a religious accommodation, not insubordination. Consequently, a court-marshal or unit punishment is not relevant.

          • trial by courts-martial…

          • Commander_Chico

            It was relevent in Sterling’s case and upheld as a option if the religious expression on balance disrupts good order and discipline.

          • Scalia

            Of course it’s relevant in the Sterling case, but not in the scenario that you offered.

  • Commander_Chico

    Had to look, she seems to have a tight slender body there. But she’s crazy and surrounded by bullshit, so “Danger, Will Robinson!!” if you got close to her.
    http://16004-presscdn-0-50.pagely.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/monifa-sterling-575×341.jpg
    http://d.ecumenicalnews.com/full/8144/monifa-sterling.jpg
    http://images.christianpost.com/full/84050/a-marine-stands-up-for-her-faith.jpg

    • jim_m

      What a disgusting tool you are.

      • Commander_Chico

        Clutching your pearls now?

        • jim_m

          No, just pointing out that you are a douchebag. Nothing really new in that.

          • Commander_Chico

            OK, Pearline.

      • pennywit

        All kinds of sexist. Judge her legal arguments, judge her work conduct, judge her abilities as a Marine, sure. But her looks are completely irrelevant.

        • Commander_Chico

          Looks are never irrelevant.