Supreme Court's Refusal to Hear Military Religious Freedom Case is Troubling, Says FRC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 5, 2017
CONTACT: J.P. Duffy or Alice Chao, (866) FRC-NEWS or (866)-372-6397

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case of United States v. Sterling. The Court was asked to decide whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects a Marine lance corporal’s decision to post scripture verses at her workstation. The lance corporal desired to post the verses to give her inspiration and strength, but military superiors ordered her to remove the verses she posted. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces refused to protect her religious expression, interpreting RFRA in a constrained manner to protect only certain types of religious exercise and requiring that service members seek a religious accommodation, even though this is not a requirement of the statute. Family Research Council and numerous other religious freedom advocates urged the Supreme Court to take this case and overturn this harmful decision.

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, Family Research Council’s Executive Vice President and former Delta Force commander, and Travis Weber, Esq., Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty, a former naval aviator and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, had attended oral argument for the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and continued to monitor its status before the Supreme Court.

Lt. General Boykin commented on the case:

“The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear this case has the unfortunate effect of allowing a chill on religious expression in the military to continue, and only underscores the need for the Trump administration to root out the anti-religious animus allowed to fester in the military during the Obama administration. Defense Secretary Mattis must consider the many complex ramifications of anti-religious Obama-era policies that remain in effect. The DOD and Congress need to ensure the priorities of the U.S. armed forces remain those that the Secretary has outlined:  mission readiness, command proficiency, and combat effectiveness - not squelching religion – which is actually quite necessary to readiness and effectiveness. Holdover personnel from the Obama administration need to focus on these priorities, and not on the last administration’s social engineering projects that ignore military readiness.

“If one thing is clear from my 36 years in the military, it is that religious faith is indispensable for the soldier facing danger and the possibility of death in battle. Throughout the history of our magnificent military, faith has played a role not just in strengthening weak knees and frail hearts, but has actually made a difference in the actions of service members who act on this faith to accomplish deeds of valor. To rob the service member of the right to express this faith will do incalculable damage to the armed forces,” concluded Boykin.

Weber, who has testified before Congress about the need for increased religious freedom protections in the military, commented on the case: 

“The Court should have taken the opportunity to clarify that RFRA protects religious expression in the military such as what is at issue in this case. Unfortunately, that must wait until another day. In the meantime, we must hope that leaving this ruling in place is not interpreted by anyone as permission to continue to scrub religious expression from our military. Far too many service members depend on their faith as the lifeline which enables them to cope with and accomplish the many incredibly difficult things our nation calls on them to do. They shouldn’t be asked to give up the very constitutional rights we are asking them to defend.”

As Lt. General Boykin and other retired general officers noted in an amicus brief they filed in the case, “the [lower court] decision undermines one of the greatest strengths of America’s military: the religiosity of its members. It effectively tells service members to keep their religious beliefs hidden or face discipline.” It is difficult to argue with their observation that “[m]ilitary men and women who swear to uphold the Constitution should also be afforded its protections.”

To review the amicus brief filed by General Boykin and other retired general officers, please see:http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF16D53.pdf

To review Travis Weber’s testimony before the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House Armed Services Committee, please see:http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF14K61.pdf

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