“The Navy provides a religious accommodation process, but by all accounts, it is theater,” wrote O’Connor in his 26-page order, noting that the branch of the military “has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory.”
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution,” wrote the judge.
First Liberty Institute, a Plano-based legal organization focused on religious liberty issues, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Navy SEALs and other affected personnel in November
In the original complaint, First Liberty asserted that several of the service members received a formal notice that members who refused the COVID-19 vaccination on religious grounds would face punishments.
“When at least one Plaintiff told his command that he would be requesting a religious accommodation, he was ordered to remove his special warfare device pin from his uniform,” said the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, other members who requested religious exemptions faced similar repercussions.
“Punishing SEALs for simply asking for a religious accommodation is purely vindictive and punitive,” said Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty. “We’re pleased that the court has acted to protect our brave warriors before more damage is done to our national security.”
Elected officials have also weighed in on the case, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) leading an amicus brief along with 46 other members of Congress.
“Our men and women in uniform have fought to protect the freedoms that every American, regardless of belief, enjoys. Now they ask this Court to protect their religious freedom from encroachment by the very government they have sworn to protect with their lives,” wrote the Congress members.
The preliminary injunction from the court prohibits the DOD from applying the mandates against the plaintiffs listed in the case and enjoins the DOD from “taking any adverse action against Plaintiffs on the basis of Plaintiffs’ requests for religious accommodation.”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.