AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the case of Monifa Sterling v. the United States.
The brief, which includes Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia, asks the Supreme Court to review the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces' Aug. 10 ruling against Sterling.
In the brief, the filing parties argue that the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces misunderstood the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and wrongly applied it in their ruling against Sterling. According to a press release issued by Paxton's office, Sterling was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in 2013 and had pasted a Bible verse, which she was asked to remove. The verse was removed the next day and she was charged with failing to obey a direct order when she reposted them.
In the brief, the parties filing argue that to use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court of appeals did not have to ask the importance of religious exercises, that the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces had no right to ask the religious importance of Sterling's religious practice of posting the Bible verse in her work space, and that the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces did not use First Amendment case law correctly in its decision.
Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, who is listed as counsel of record on the amicus brief, told The Record a similar coalition, including a lot of the same states, filed an amicus brief at the court of appeals phase of the case.
"Right now, this case is about whether a court should take a very close look at Sterling’s dismissal," Keller said via email. "That legal issue could have broad ramifications for all sorts of religious exercise because it will tell courts how closely they should monitor and scrutinize burdens on religion."
In its Aug. 10 decision, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces argued that Sterling failed in her argument that the order from her commanding officer to remove the posted Bible verse substantially burdened her free exercise of religion. The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces argued in that decision that she failed in her argument because she did not let her commanding officer know that she had the Bible verse up in her work space because of her religion and that she did not seek religious accommodation in order to keep her Bible verses hanging.
In the amicus brief, the parties filing argue that the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces misused First Amendment precedent in its ruling that the substantial-burden requirement of the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, in which strict scrutiny is placed on all federal government acts that substantially burden a person's free practice of religion, depends on whether the government coerces action that violates a person's faith.
"The significant number of states signals to the Supreme Court that this is an important issue beyond just the facts of Sterling’s particular case," Keller said.
Sterling, with the help of First Liberty, appealed the Aug.10 decision to the Supreme Court on Dec. 23.
"We are supporting Sterling’s call to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear her appeal," Keller said. "However, this case is currently focused on asking the Court to review [whether a court should take a very close look at Sterling’s dismissal], not to definitively rule on her underlying dismissal."
The entire amicus brief is available at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.