Carver: 'withhold judgment' on Marine's conviction

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Jay's picture

Sterling was convicted of violating a lawful order after refusing to obey a staff sergeant's 2013 order to remove three copies of Isaiah 54:17 -- "No weapon formed against me shall prosper" -- from her computer tower, monitor and desk, the Military Times reported. Sterling served at the time at North Carolina's Camp Lejune handling complaints from Marines about their military identification cards.

Following Sterling's refusal to remove the verses, the staff sergeant removed them herself. But Sterling replaced them and the staff sergeant removed the replacements as well. That sequence, along with other low-level misconduct allegations, led to Sterling's conviction and a sentence of reduction in rank to E-1 and a bad-conduct discharge.

To me, the troubling thing about this article isn't the request to remove the verse (or even the out of context verse itself), it's the fact that she was ordered to remove the verse and refused.  Then she replaced the verse after it was removed by a lawful authority. The USMC broke her rank all the way back to buck private (Lance Corporal > Private First Class > Private [E-1]), so obviously there were issues with her.  I would imagine that normally a reduction in rank would only go one step (in this case, to PFC).

Then there is this additional paragraph in the story above:

Sterling's original case included convictions for refusing to perform duties for which she claimed medical exemption, the Times reported. Those charges were considered at her sentencing but are not part of her appeal.

This sounds to me like someone who couldn't get with the USMC ethos and culture, who insisted on doing things her way, and who ended up fighting the Corps instead of fighting for the Corps.  I would say it's a shame, but it's hard to havea lot of sympathy given what I know of the case. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

As I said in the other thread, I believe Sterling was a problem child who is better off outside the military. When a junior Sailor (or Marine) gets assigned to Pass & ID . . . it's a sign. Trust me. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Sean Fericks's picture

Quote:
"If the government can order a Marine not to display a Bible verse, they could try and order her not to get a religious tattoo, or go to church on Sunday," Liberty Institute director of military affairs Mike Berry said according to Charisma News. "Restricting a Marine's free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional."

Actually, they can order her not to get some religious tattoos, and they can order her not to go to church on Sunday. If she wants the tattoo on her forehead, they would say no. If they need her to work on Sunday, she could not go to church.

Sorry, but the more and more I hear about this, the more and more she sounds like a non-hacking, sick bay commando, martyr wannabe. She was convicted in a very fair system, and we should not enable this type of behavior. It does damage to the reputation of believers.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is a useless case - a special courts-martial. It should have remained an Article 15. It is being spun into some martyr story by hacks like Todd Starnes and well-meaning folks who don't know any better. You can't even get into the military with a tattoo unless you get a waiver, for example. How about that violation of "free speech?" Such silliness. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

ramp up to a full blown court-martial with a bad conduct discharge?

Maybe the LCPL was partially at fault, but what SSGT court-martials a LCPL for something as trivial as this? THe USMC is full of sick bay commandoes. It is full of people that disobey minor orders. Why did the command let this case elevate to this level?

 One of the complaints is that she came to work with the wrong uniform while wearing a back brace. OK. If I'm a SSGT that sounds like a LCPL looking for weekend duty and an assignment to scrub the trash cans with a tooth brush...but a court-martial? That would have to be a case of persistent disobedience.

Sean Fericks's picture

Mark,

Because she flagrantly defied authority.  That is a pretty big offense under the UCMJ.  The court-martial was not about the Bible verses.  It was about a LCPL defying a SSGT.

BTW, the SSGT probably did not make the decision to court-martial.  It was probably the company CO (my guess).  The CO's decision was probably based on a lengthy history of bad conduct.

Mark_Smith's picture

That is a pretty good list of assumptions.

There are plenty of good ways to deal with challenge to authority before doing a court-martial. Were those tried?

Sean Fericks's picture

Quote:
However, while admitting that she normally took the medication as prescribed, the appellant insisted that she had to take the medication hours earlier on 15 September 2013 because she would be attending church services, which she believed could trigger a migraine. Therefore, because she planned to take the medication by the time her appointed duty would have commenced, she concluded that she could not report to her appointed place of duty.

In a mistake of fact analysis, the appellant’s assumption that her choice of activities would necessitate medicating herself early--contrary to the prescription--such that she believed she would have rendered herself unfit to report to her appointed place of duty is unreasonable. Other than the appellant’s personal desire, there was no reason she could not have taken the medication as prescribed, thus enabling her to report as ordered. Under these circumstances, we are not persuaded in the least that any member would have found any mistaken belief reasonable.

Can't report for duty sir! I gotta go to church and get my migraine, so I will need to take my meds at a time inconvenient to the Corps! She is no martyr. She is playing the sick, religious, victim card.

Jay's picture

Sean Fericks wrote:

Because she flagrantly defied authority.  That is a pretty big offense under the UCMJ.  The court-martial was not about the Bible verses.  It was about a LCPL defying a SSGT.

No military can function if Lance Corporals can defy Staff Sergeants and get away with it.  The Corps HAD to come down hard on this one in order to maintain discipline and accountability.  If  a LCPL can defy an order and have nothing done about it, what happens when they refuse to take the hill that they are ordered to?   Or when they're in the field and decide that they really don't need to sweep the area since they did it the day before?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ben Howard's picture

http://www.jag.navy.mil/courts/documents/archive/2015/STERLING-201400150...

She definitely deserved what she got.  Contrary to what someone said above there are protections that people can go to for support for being able to attend church and other religious functions, and as a Chaplain, I have had to confront some leaders regarding those Marine Corps Orders and SecNav Instructions.  This ex-Marine's (sorry but she got a BCD, she's not a former Marine in my opinion) problem was not religious in nature, but rebellious in nature towards her legitimate authorities issuing lawful orders that she was required to follow.

The court documents from her appeal detail the "rest of the story."  She refused to obey lawful orders on numerous occasions, failed to be at her appointed place of duty, and was disrespectful to a superior SNCO and officer.  To Mark who said this silliness should have been NJP at most, read the transcripts.  NJP works for those who might be salvageable or messed up once or twice...she was way past that.  I also read somewhere and cannot find a link that Sterling herself requested to raise it to Special, which is her right, but is also pretty dumb.  A Special Court Martial opens you up to far worse consequences than a Summary Court Martial.

Mark_Smith's picture

That's done. Let's move on.

Anybody else want to kick her while she's down?

Let me... BOOF.

 

Its a sad day for the Corps when a SSGT, a 1SGT and a SGTMAJ can't come up with punishment for a slacker Marine who put up signs and wanted to wear cammies instead of Charlies when wearing a medical device that a chit asked her to not wear OTHER THAN a court martial and a Bad Conduct Discharge.

Sean Fericks's picture

Mark,

What would you have them do?  She refused to obey orders.  She would not report to her post.  She refused to wear the uniform of the day.  She played the sick card.  She played the church card.  She absolutely needed to be discharged.  Court martial, discharge, done.  

But no...she had to appeal, and then a bunch of Christians started posting pictures of her on FB saying that she is a victim of persecution.  Then, we are told not to judge.  When shown the evidence, we are told to move on, don't kick her while she is down (and appealing her bad conduct), and what a sad day for the Corps.  Sorry, but I still completely disagree.  Any time the Corps weeds out a non-hacker is a great day for the Corps.  How did Sterling ever make it through boot camp?

dgszweda's picture

I think the military is fully justified.  She was at a public service desk and she was posting very large verses that could be construed as "signs", in addition she had three of them to represent the Trinity (not sure what this is about).  They never indicated that she couldn't have verses up, just not duplicate large scale signs at a public reception desk.  We wouldn't allow our corporate reception desk to have signs of verses up at their desk either, even though many people at my work have Bible verses at their desk.

This is really about following the chain of command, and not a Christian being persecuted for her beliefs.  We are told by Scripture, to obey authority.  This was clearly not the case here, and she probably hurt her testimony tremendously.  Having a Bible verse in 28 font above your computer or not, does not challenge your ability to practice your religion.

Jay's picture

About the verse she posted..."No weapon formed against me shall prosper..."

I wonder if that was her personal verse and used against others, as in, "you can't touch me, because no weapon shall prosper..."  If so, I'd ask her to remove the verse as well as a possible hostile work environment.  Can you imagine working with a Christian who told you that she was immune to everything because 'no weapon formed against me will prosper'?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Sean Fericks's picture

Also, her complaint that she was dealing with cantankerous Marines is foolish.  She has an office job.  She works in air conditioning.  Many of the Marines she is working with are back stateside fresh from Afghanistan where they were being shot at.  They have precious little free time back home with family and friends.  They need their ID cards to work, and they need competent and caring admin Marines to give 110%.