“No” Means “No”, Especially in the Corps: Court Reject Court Martial Appeal

One June 7 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a former Marine’s court-martial appeal, refusing to even hear arguments. After 4 years of trial, appeals and public appeals this brings to close a case supporters claim was rooted in religious freedom and free speech and confirms the government claim it was simply about following orders.

May 2013 – LCpl Monifa Sterling was two things – a Marine and a devote Christian. The two are not mutually exclusive, the old phrase “God, Country, Corps” is proof of that. But, according to her supervisors, Sterling took things a bit too far.

LCpl Sterling began hanging Bible verses in her work space, an area visible to co-workers and her supervisor. Her supervisor took issue with the verses being visible, fearing they may offend non-Christian coworkers or even those not as devote as Sterling. So, like any supervisor facing a similar issue, he ordered Sterling to remove them.

Not only did Sterling refuse to remove them but she reprinted and rehung them after the supervisor removed them. Shortly thereafter Sterling found herself facing a court martial for various charges including disobeying a direct order.

Sterling was found guilty at court-martial, reduced in rank and ordered discharged under Other than Honorable Conditions. The verdict was later upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in a 4-1 decision. At the time “First Liberty”, a religious freedom advocate group, stated:

“A few judges decided they could strip a Marine of her constitutional rights just because they didn’t think her beliefs were important enough to be protected. If they can court-martial a Marine over Bible verses, what’s to stop them from punishing a service member for reading the Bible, talking about their faith or praying?”

But this was never about faith, praying or even Bible verses. It wasn’t even about hanging something in a work space others might find offensive. Yes, that is what started the ball rolling but court-martial could have been avoided IF Sterling had done one thing every Marine is expected to do – follow orders.

Failure to follow orders, and I assume a heated discussion afterwards, is what lead to charges being made. This is also what made the original court find her guilty, the appeals court to uphold the conviction and the U.S. Supreme Court refuse to hear the matter.

Yes, everyone has certain freedoms including free speech. But free does not mean without consequence. Then LCpl Sterling chooses to exercise what she saw as free speech even after being ordered to stop. Now Ms. Sterling has learned that doing so carried a far steeper price than she originally thought.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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