Free Exercise of Religion–What is it?

Despite immense cultural pressure on Christians to keep their faith hidden from sight, many Christians continue to obey Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations,” and to “hold fast” to their testimony. Recently, a young marine was court-martialed, because she refused to remove from her work area a piece of paper on which was written a Bible verse. The court-martial apparently based its decision on the findings of hearing that determined that a command to remove the verse from her workspace was a lawful command that she refused to obey.

The details can be found here and here. The story is simple. Marine Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling copied a verse from the Bible onto a strip of paper that she taped to her computer monitor. The verse said, “”No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” and was copied from Isaiah 54:17. The strip of paper contained only the words, however, not the reference. Most Christians would understand completely the reason a Marine might choose those words for both comfort and inspiration. Probably anyone would understand why this Marine chose those words, regardless of the source. In fact, people who saw the verse when they came to Lance Corporal Sterling’s desk might not even recognize the statement as a biblical quotation. They might very well think that these words are no more divine than “If you can dream it, you can do it,” a very common secular inspirational quotation. That fact makes it clear that the accusation that this verse constitutes a “divisive impact to good order and discipline” is a deliberate misrepresentation of the impact of the lance corporal’s little note on her computer monitor. Furthermore, it is hard to understand how the presence of this small strip of paper on a computer monitor constitutes being “festooned” as alleged by the court’s ruling.

Thoughtful readers may well wonder why the court chose to focus on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA) as the basis for deciding the future of the young Marine who stood firm on her right to display this verse as the exercise of her faith, a right protected by the US Constitution. The RFRA was never intended to be the basic guide for determining when someone’s exercise of faith is in conflict with the compelling interests of government. RFRA establishes the principle that such conflicts must be resolved in the manner least onerous to the free exercise of faith guaranteed by the Constitution.

By stating that RFRA did not permit the display of this verse in the workplace, the court-martial completely missed the point of RFRA. It was probably not in the lance corporal’s best interests that she represented herself in that trial. Currently, she has engaged a lawyer, Liberty Institute volunteer attorney Paul Clement, who successfully defended Hobby Lobby when the might of the federal government infringed on the free exercise of faith by Hobby Lobby’s owners. Liberty Institute’s Director of Military Affairs, Mike Berry, points out that “If a service member has a right to display a secular poster, put an atheist bumper sticker on their car, or get a Star of David tattoo, then Lance Cpl. Sterling has the right to display a small Bible verse on her computer monitor.”

Did Lance Corporal Sterling refuse to obey a lawful order? The answer is a resounding, “No.” She received an unlawful order, because the order required her to give up her right to exercise her religion without hindrance. Her refusal to obey was justified, because the order was unlawful.

There is a concerted effort in the US today to eradicate all evidence that the people who founded this country served God and trusted him for guidance in their daily lives. Secular thinkers pretend that commitment to secular ideas is a different thing from religion, and they even allege that the original colonists believed in a wall of separation between sacred and secular ideas and behaviors. This misconception about the way of life of the original colonists and the teaching they embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution must be resisted and defeated.

The truth is that the colonists who came to the shores of North America would find it appalling that a Marine Lance Corporal could be denied the right to express her faith. They believed in the Bible as a guide for faith and life, and they would naturally expect that every military person serving this country would find comfort and inspiration in the Bible.

The Bible is where Lance Corporal Sterling found her guidance for a way of life that is fulfilling and satisfying. In the Bible, she found comfort in words that reminded her of God’s love for her and his power to protect her. Her response to that blessing is a life that is a constant expression of her faith in God. When she posted the words of  a Bible verse on her computer monitor, she exercised her faith and showed that she lived according to the teaching in the Bible that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). The First Amendment to the Constitution protects her right to do exactly that.

Every Christian must pray that God go with her lawyer, Paul Clement, and with Lance Corporal Sterling through all the coming court proceedings. They stand on the front lines for all people of faith who want to live their faith under the protection of the US Constitution.




2 thoughts on “Free Exercise of Religion–What is it?”

  1. We have entered a new era in Anerican history, and it appears that persecution of faithful Christians will increase, not decrease, and it will continue to flow from the culture’s embraced immoral social values, from academia, from Hollywood and the media, and from the government itself. It will also come from apostate professing but carnal CHRISTIANS from progressive denominations who fully embrace social activism and homosexuality. These individuals and liberal churches will join with the others to attack Bible Christians as extremists for holding to God’s word.


    1. Your point about the Christians who have sold out is very important. When we testify to God’s truth, we are bombarded by responses to the effect that we must be the ones who are wrong since other “Christians” have blended in with the world around them. A pastor with whom I disputed on the subject of “gay” marriage told me I was on the wrong side of history. My response was that I don’t look to history to learn what is right or wrong; I look to God and his truth revealed in Scripture. As you point out, there are Christians who simply believe we have outgrown God’s truth. Thank you for your comment.


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