Ten states have filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals urging the Armed Forces to correct a misinterpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental right and our nation’s armed forces should not have to compromise their right to religious exercise while serving our country,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today. “The failure of the Court of Criminal Appeals to recognize the applicability of RFRA jeopardizes Congress’ efforts to protect religious liberty. We hope the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will clarify the issue and confirm that RFRA protects our troops’ right to religious freedom.”
The issue began when Marine Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was court-martialed on Feb. 1, 2014 after she reposted a Bible verse at her desk. On Oct. 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces granted review in United States v. Sterling, because other service members in her workplace were allowed to have personal items in their workspaces. The lower courts ruled that RFRA did not apply because posting a Bible verse does not constitute religious exercise protected by that law.
Texas and nine states are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to reverse the misinterpretation of RFRA by recognizing that the challenged conduct is an “exercise of religion” under the law.
“As the Supreme Court has held time and again, the Constitution commands acknowledgement and accommodation of religion, rather than hostility towards religion,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote recently. “Given these well-established principles, it is unsurprising that ‘In God We Trust’ has survived every legal challenge.”
Abbott and Paxton have a strong history of defending Texas’s acknowledgments of religion. The State’s religious liberties challenges included:
- In December 2014, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the county judge in Cherokee County, Texas, demanding the removal of a courthouse nativity display. As then-Attorney General, Governor Abbott offered his support in the event that the organization followed through with the lawsuit. The organization did not follow through with the threat.
- In December 2011, the FFRF sent a similar letter threatening to sue Henderson County, Texas, if the county refused to take down a nativity display on the courthouse grounds. Abbott offered his support and the organization backed down.
- In October 2012, Abbott defended Kountze high school cheerleaders by taking head-on the lawsuit filed against them for including religious messages on their football game banners.
- In 2011, Abbott’s office submitted a legal brief asking a federal appeals court to uphold Medina Valley High School graduates’ constitutional rights to freely express their religious beliefs during graduation ceremonies.
- In January 2009, after Abbott submitted a legal brief joined by all 50 state attorneys general, a federal judge cleared the way for President Barack Obama to include references to religion during his Presidential Inauguration.
- In 2007, Attorney General Abbott defeated a lawsuit that attempted to remove the words “under God” from the Texas Pledge of Allegiance.
- In 2005, Attorney General Abbott appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court and defended the State’s Ten Commandments monument, which stands on the Texas Capitol grounds. In that case, Van Orden v. Perry, the plaintiff sought to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds, but Attorney General Abbott successfully argued that the monument was entirely constitutional.