[Ed. – The grave danger of this ruling is the court’s assumption that it can rule on what is “important to the practice of [a service member’s] religion.” The civilian courts have been extremely wary about making such rulings, and for good reason. I hope this is appealed to the Supreme Court. (The military court in question is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.]
The military’s highest court ruled yesterday that men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces can be punished for exercising their religion if judges deem the practice not religiously “important.” The ruling upholds the government’s criminal prosecution of a U.S. Marine for refusing to discard personal notes that had Bible verses on them. The case may now be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2014, Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was ordered to remove from her workstation three pieces of paper with a paraphrase from the Book of Isaiah, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” even though co-workers were permitted to keep nonreligious messages on their desks. She declined and was court-martialed. A lower court upheld Sterling’s court martial, rejecting her argument that her faith was protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. …
The majority of judges on the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that Lance Corporal Sterling’s posted verses were a “religious exercise” under RFRA and assumed that the exercise was sincere. But it held that, despite the court-martial Sterling faced for refusing to remove the verses, the military hadn’t placed a “substantial burden” on her religion because the court was not persuaded that she had a “subjective belief in the importance of [the] practice to her religion.” The dissent disagreed, arguing that RFRA “does not empower judges to curtail various manifestations of sincere religious belief simply by arbitrarily deciding that a certain act was not ‘important’ to the believer’s exercise of religion.”