US Marine court-martialed for refusing to remove Bible verse from her computer

Monifa Sterling was court-martialed for refusing to remove the verse "No weapons formed against me shall prosper" from her desk.Wynona Benson Photography/Courtesy of Liberty Institute

A US Marine was convicted at a court-martial last year after she refused to remove a Bible verse from her computer work station, but now Liberty Institute, a religious liberty law firm, is appealing the decision.

Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was prosecuted for displaying a slightly paraphrased version of Isaiah 54:17: "No weapons formed against me shall prosper" around her computer while she was stationed at Camp Lejune in North Carolina.

She represented herself at her trial in February last year, citing her right to religious expression under the First Amendment and her protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

She lost the case and appealed to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, but was told by both courts that displaying a Bible verse did not constitute religious exercise.

According to Fox News she was found guilty of disrespect towards a commissioned officer and failing to go to her appointed place of duty, among other charges.

Sterling's rank was demoted to private and she was discharged with bad conduct. She is currently looking for another job.

Her case has now been taken up by the Liberty Institute and former US solicitor general Paul Clement, whose recent court victories include the high profile Hobby Lobby case against the Affordable Care Act. The appeal has been lodged with the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest miltary court in the US.

Sterling decided to display the scripture verse after she saw others had put personal items around their work space at the base, according to Liberty Institute. She chose the verse as it was a personal favourite.

Her supervisor told her to remove it, and when she asked why, the supervisor said "I don't like the tone." Although she refused, the supervisor later took it down and threw it in the bin.

"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," said Mike Berry, Liberty Institute Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel. "Restricting a Marine's free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional."

Berry added: "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, then Lance Corporal Sterling has the right to display a small Bible verse on her computer monitor."