Sunday, March 01, 2015

Court Martial Conviction For Refusal To Remove Biblical Quotes From Desk Upheld

In United States v. Sterling, 2015 CCA LEXIS 65 (NMCCA, Feb. 26, 2015), the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a court martial conviction of a marine corps member for disobeying a lawful order to remove signs containing Biblical verses that she had taped up around her desk.  According to the court;
appellant's duties included sitting at a desk and utilizing a computer to assist Marines experiencing issues with their Common Access Cards. The appellant printed three copies of the biblical quote "no weapon formed against me shall prosper" on paper in 28 point font or smaller. The appellant then cut the quotes to size and taped one along the top of the computer tower, one above the computer monitor on the desk, and one above the in-box. The appellant testified that she is a Christian and that she posted the quotation in three places to represent the Christian trinity.
The court rejected defendant's free exercise and RFRA defenses, holding:
the definition of a "religious exercise"[in RFRA]  requires the practice be "part of a system of religious belief." ...  Personal beliefs, grounded solely upon subjective ideas about religious practices, "will not suffice" because courts need some reference point to assess whether the practice is indeed religious.... For these reasons, we reject the appellant's invitation to define "religious exercise" as any action subjectively believed by the appellant to be "religious in nature.
Here, the appellant taped a biblical quotation in three places around her workstation, organized in a fashion to "represent the trinity." While her explanation at trial may invoke religion, there is no evidence that posting signs at her workstation was an "exercise" of that religion in the sense that such action was "part of a system of religious belief."