Faith groups unite to protect military’s robust religious diversity Leaders representing broad religious views call for greater tolerance
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 email@example.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Mormon, and Catholic leaders with strong military ties joined today in urging the military to give greater respect to the diverse religious practices of service members throughout the armed forces. The brief, filed in the nation’s highest military court, criticizes a Navy ruling that allows commanders to censor religious activity on the grounds that religion is too “divisive” and “contentious” a topic for our nation’s Marines.
“Even before the Continental Army, the military has always set the tone for the nation by protecting religious diversity,” said Daniel Blomberg, Counsel at Becket. “Strength comes from mutual respect for religious differences, not enforced silence.”
The lawsuit involves a Marine who was ordered by her commander to remove from her desk three small strips of paper with scripture verses printed on them. Last February, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction of Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling for refusing to remove them, even though co-workers were permitted to keep nonreligious personal items on their desks, such as career accolades and pictures of family.
The lower court held that posting personal religious messages was not protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Further, the court justified allowing commanders to suppress religious speech, claiming that Marines would suffer “detrimental effect” from being “exposed to biblical quotations in the military workplace.” The religious leaders’ brief filed in support of Sterling’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces explains how all major religions teach the importance of regularly pondering scriptural messages. The brief also shows how religious diversity promotes the military’s mission.
“Throughout history, religion has been an essential source of both courage and comfort for those called to defend our freedoms,” said Blomberg. “The least we can do is respect their personal religious beliefs and practices.”
The brief’s signatories include high-ranking veterans who have served in every branch of the military and in every major U.S. conflict since Vietnam. Among them are the nation’s largest organization of Orthodox rabbis; the co-founder of the first ministry to send Muslim chaplains into the U.S. military; the first Sikh service member in a generation to obtain an accommodation to maintain his religiously mandated turban and beard on active duty; ministries led by, among others, a recently retired U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains and several senior veteran chaplains from the Army, Air Force, and Marines; and entities that have been officially endorsing chaplains for service in the U.S. military since at least the Civil War, including the military’s largest single chaplain endorser.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.349.7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Its recent cases include three major Supreme Court victories: the landmark ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the 9-0 rulings in Holt v. Hobbs and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the latter of which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”