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35 Navy SEALS sue Biden, DoD over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

A U.S. Navy Sailor receives the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Luke Cunningham)
November 10, 2021

On Tuesday, First Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of more than three dozen U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel against President Joe Biden’s administration and the Department of Defense. The lawsuit alleges the U.S. government is infringing on troops’ First Amendment right to be free from governmental religious persecution by refusing to grant religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The filing represents roughly 35 active-duty SEALs and three reservists, all of whom are members of various denominations of Christianity and who reject the COVID-19 vaccine mandate due to “their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“The fact that the government has not granted a single religious exemption from the vaccine mandate shows that the Biden Administration does not care about religious freedom.  Instead, this appears to be an attempted ideological purge.  Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, said in a statement. “After all these elite warriors have done to defend our freedoms, the Navy is now threatening their careers, families, and finances.  It’s appalling and it has to stop before any more harm is done to our national security.”

A press release from the institute explained that the SEALs in question currently serve at a number of classified and confidential locations. The service members share more than 350 years of military service, and over 100 combat deployments.

After the mandate was announced, the SEALs asked about religious exemptions. The Navy told the plaintiffs that they would be subject to court-martial or involuntary separation if they refused to take the vaccine, and all of their religious exemptions were denied.

The institute said the denials “appear to be identical, suggesting the Navy is not taking their requests seriously.” The group also alleged that the Navy threatened to confiscate their Special Warfare devices, including the SEAL “Trident” which is worn on their uniforms, if they sought religious exemptions.

“In its Complaint, First Liberty attorneys allege that the Department of Defense is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense regulations,” the press release stated. “The Vaccine Mandate substantially burdens the SEALs’ free exercise of religion, and the Department of Defense has failed to prove it has a compelling government interest, or that there are no less restrictive ways to further its effort to mitigate the Covid-19 virus.”