One day in May, 2013, Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling’s boss entered her cubicle at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina and told her to remove three Scriptures she had attached to her computer monitor and her walls. Sterling refused.
The next morning Sterling discovered them in her trash basket. She put them back up on her computer screen and walls and that’s when the trouble began. Her staff sergeant, a foul-mouthed former drill instructor, ordered her in no uncertain terms that were laced with obscenities to remove them. Sterling once again refused.
All was quiet for a few weeks, but then, during reviews, Sterling became aware that she was being written up for minor infractions which hadn’t happened before. She was written up for not wearing her uniform when her doctor, who was treating her for severe back pain, suggested wearing civilian clothes for a few days might be better for her.
Two months later Sterling learned she was the target of a Court Martial for disobeying orders of a superior, coupled with other infractions.
Sterling prepared to defend herself, reacquainting herself with the meaning behind the words in the First Amendment guaranteeing her freedom of religion as well as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton. The language of the act was clear: “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion…,” along with two exceptions, neither of which applied in her case. Or so she thought.
What was the big deal? All she had done was take Isaiah 54.17: