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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

It's baaaack!

For those who think the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is just an excuse to discriminate against gays:

Is posting a Bible verse on a desktop computer in a military workplace an act protected under the Constitution as a free expression of religion?

Or is such an open display of religiosity an affront to "good order and discipline"?

The military's highest court may soon face that question as a court-martial appeal from an enlisted Marine moves forward.

The case involves former Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling, who in May 2013 was assigned at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to a desk job handling complaints from other Marines experiencing issues with their Common Access Cards.

Sterling taped three paper copies of the same quote — "No weapon formed against me shall prosper" — in 28-point type on her computer's tower, her monitor and her desk. The line is a variant of a passage from Isaiah 57:14; Sterling said the three copies reflected the Trinity.

A native New Yorker and Christian who does not affiliate with a particular denomination, Sterling told military officials that the posted passage helped her summon patience when dealing with short-tempered Marines who were frustrated with their CAC problems.

She lost her case and then her appeal, a military judge ruling that the quotations "could be interpreted as combative." She's appealing to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, asserting her rights under the RFRA, which says the government has to provide a good reason before restricting someone's religious activities. I know the military has to have strict discipline and obedience and all that, but I don't think "could be interpreted as combative" is a very good reason even in that setting. I like her testimomny that the quotes help her keep her cool whem dealing with short-tempered chuckleheaded leathernecks. Posting a quotation seems a pretty damn passive way of being "combative."

There is a line between what we can do in the name of religion and what we have to give up to serve the larger society, and the line is always moving. After the RFRA blowup here, it might seem that the line has been moved drastically away from religious rights and toward submitting to the group. I do not think that is really so -- except in the popular imagination fueled by social media frenzy. The line will move when the Supreme Court says it will move, and I don't see this patricular group of justices doing that, no matter how latitudinarian they become about gay marriage. I also don't think the religiously motivated segment of the population is as beaten down as some would have us believe.