Comparatively strict guidelines on religion in the military? | Law Offices of David P. Sheldon
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Comparatively strict guidelines on religion in the military?

It is generally understood -- certainly by members of the armed forces -- that free speech is not quite as unfettered generally as it is in the civilian world. Servicemembers don't openly question their superiors about orders received. Troops don't publicly denigrate the president -- who is their commander in chief -- or matters of military policy.

Where is the line drawn, though, if any, regarding religious practice and observances? It is unquestioned that servicemembers have carte blanche to believe as they want in the realm of personal faith, but can military superiors curtail their religious freedom on the grounds that it unreasonably interferes with military order or the proper focus of other servicemembers?

Consider the case of a female Marine, who was told repeatedly by her immediate superior to take down multiple signs she had affixed around her office computer. They contained a slightly altered Bible reference stating that, "No weapon formed against me shall prosper." The woman's boss told authorities, as noted by a media account of the story, that the tone of the messages was "combative."

The Marine refused to comply and was subsequently convicted on multiple counts of disobeying a lawful order and other charges. A military appellate court upheld the conviction. She was demoted in rank and ushered out of the service with a bad-conduct discharge.

At least one commentator on the matter thinks that the case was rightly decided, citing stricter speech that distinguishes military life from civilian society.

Others disagree. The now ex-Marine has assembled a legal team that is appealing her conviction, requesting that it be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Her attorneys argue that the appeals court confirming her conviction too narrowly construed a servicemember's religious freedoms.

The matter is unquestionably interesting. If the Marine's appeal is heard and ruled upon, we will be sure to convey the outcome to readers.

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