On Monday, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court Texas’ Northern District temporarily blocked the U.S. Navy from kicking out 35 Naval Special Warfare members seeking religious exemptions to the military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate implemented by President Joe Biden’s administration.
The lawsuit was brought by the First Liberty Institute in November on behalf of 35 Navy Special Warfare servicemembers, including 26 Navy SEALs, multiple Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen (SWCC) and Navy Divers, and an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician. All 35 service members have sought religious exemptions to the vaccine and, to date, 29 have been rejected. The service members brought the lawsuit against President Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, and the Department of Defense, alleging violations of their first amendment rights to freely exercise their religion, and violations of the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act (RFRA).
With the injunction, the Navy may not take any adverse actions against the service members on the basis of their requests for religious accommodation, until the case is further adjudicated.
In his decision to grant a preliminary injunction, Judge Reed O’Connor wrote, “The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory. It merely rubber stamps each denial.”
“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor continued. “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.”
O’Connor further noted that the service members’ religious oppositions to the vaccine are based on religious opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in developing the vaccine, belief modifying one’s body is an affront to their creator, direct divine instruction not to receive the vaccine and opposition to injecting animal cells into one’s body.
O’Connor said the service members’ opposition to the vaccines is “undisputedly sincere” and it’s not the court’s role to decide their truthfulness. The judge noted that, in many cases, the plaintiffs’ commanding officers recommended their religious accommodation requests be approved, yet none of their requests have been approved and 29 out of 35 have already been rejected.
“Although ‘all requests for accommodation of religious practices are assessed on a case-by-case basis,’ Phase 1 of the Navy guidance document instructs an administrator to update a prepared disapproval template with the requester’s name and rank,” O’Connor wrote. “Based on this boilerplate rejection, Plaintiffs believe that this process is ‘pre-determined’ and sidesteps the individualized review required by law.”
The lawsuit brought by First Liberty Institute and the 35 Naval Special Warfare members is one of several lawsuits brought by service members, challenging the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
In response to a Fox News request for comment, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, “We are aware of the injunction and are reviewing it.”