Can a service member face court martial for refusing orders on religious grounds?
Under U.S. military regulations, members of the armed services are required to abide by the direct orders of their superiors – even if they disagree or take exception to the commanding officer’s instruction. In a recent ongoing battle originating in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, a former member of the U.S. Marines has launched an appeal of her discharge following First Amendment-infused conflict with her former drill sergeant and immediate superior. The case, which is up for possible consideration on appeal, involves the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and could serve as a powerful precedent-setting case within the U.S. Military jurisdiction.
Details of recent court martial
According to the publicized details of the case, Lance Corporal Monifa J. Sterling was employed at Camp LeJeune assisting other Marines experiencing difficulties with their Common Access Cards. During her tenure, Ms. Sterling testified that she had been the victim of repeated and continual bullying by other Marines, and subsequently posted Bible verses on her computer monitor, workstation, and keyboard. Her superior ordered her to remove the signs immediately – and she refused. From there, the superior removed the signs herself and threw them in the trash – which prompted Ms. Sterling to repost the verses the following day.
As a result of this conflict, Ms. Sterling was convicted of failing to go to her appointed place of duty, disrespect towards a superior commissioned officer, and four specifications of disobeying the lawful order of a noncommissioned officer (NCO). She was placed on a reduced pay grade and released from the military on a bad behavior discharge.
Ms. Sterling, who has now claimed difficulty finding employment outside the military, has since appealed the case to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals – which upheld the court martial. Her counsel has since initiated an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
If you are facing a court martial, contact an experienced attorney at Aviso Law LLC right away: (719)247-3111.