Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was reduced to the rank of E-1 and received a bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps after being convicted in February, 2014 by a court-martial for violating several articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Charges against LCpl Sterling involved separate unrelated incidents over a 5-month period including:
-Failure to appear at appointed place of duty.
-Disrespect of a commissioned officer.
-Disobeying direct order from superiors to wear the proper uniform.
LCpl Sterling then claimed an exercise of religion issue protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which involved posting the printed words “[n]o weapon formed against me shall prosper” at a shared workspace in the context of Appellant’s contentious relationship with her superiors. However, the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA) affirmed the findings and sentence against LCpl Sterling stating:
Appellant did not inform the person who ordered her to remove the signs that they had had any religious significance to Appellant, the words in context could easily be seen as combative in tone, and the record reflects that their religious connotation was neither revealed nor raised until mid-trial. Nor, despite the existence of procedures for seeking a religious accommodation, did Appellant seek one.
Upon appeal of LCpl Sterling’s conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services under religious freedom grounds protected under the RFRA, several Amicus Curiae briefs were filed. MRFF’s legal brief (the first Amicus Curiae brief filed in this case) was authored by attorney Donald G. Rehkopf, Jr., of Brenna Boyce, PLLC, Rochester, New York and filed on June 23, 2015, in support of neither party. MRFF’s brief concluded that this case was not appropriate for the Court of Appeals to use as a vehicle for addressing RFRA issues since Lance Corporal Sterling had failed to preserve her rights granted under RFRA by failing to address any religious concerns or accommodations at any appropriate time that was amply afforded her.
Another Amicus Curiae brief filed in this case of particular note was filed by 9 retired generals in support of LCpl Sterling’s claim of violations of her religious freedoms protected under RFRA. MRFF was particularly interested in this brief due to the numerous violations of military standards and regulations this brief entailed:
-There was no disclaimer in the generals’ brief that they were participating as a ‘friend of the court’ pursuant to guidance issued by the Office of Governmental Ethics in order to explain that the employee’s service is done in his or her personal capacity and eliminate any potential appearance that the employee’s agency or the government sanctioned or endorsed the employee’s actions.
– Retired General Officers, drawing retired pay, remain subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice [UCMJ], per 10 U.S.C. § 802(a)(4)
-The brief appears to violate regulation pertaining to activities of officers and employee in claims against or affecting the government since the 9 generals are clearly acting as an ‘agent’ before the court regarding a matter in which the U.S. government is a party and has a substantial interest.
-The 9 generals are highly critical of the decision by the NM CCA in the Sterling case. DoD’s Joint Ethics Regulation, DoD 5500.07-R (as amended), expressly forbids such criticism of the NM CCA’s decision since “any use of military titles is prohibited if it in any way casts discredit on DoD . . . .” by retired military members. Such conduct is, in MRFF’s opinion, illegal as violating Article 133, of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, [10 U.S.C. § 933], as “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer”
MRFF demanded an immediate formal investigation by the DoD General Counsel into the actions of these 9 generals since their actions were certainly something that anyone graduating from one of the Nation’s Military Service Academies or who is a General Officer should be cognizant of.
On August 10, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces upheld the conviction of the LCpl Sterling. MRFF President and Founder Mikey Weinstein applauded the Court for setting a massive positive precedent in support of the Constitutional separation of church and state in our U.S. military. Mikey described the appellant in this case, kicked out-former marine Monifa Sterling, as a literal Poster Child as to precisely what a Bad Conduct Dischargee does to richly deserve the ignominious disgrace of receiving that Bad Conduct Discharge.
Click to read the final decision