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Marines threaten to defy US court, discharge unvaccinated corporal: Report

U.S. Marines at a COVID-19 vaccination site at Naval Hospital Okinawa, Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 26, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Micha Pierce)
August 23, 2022

A corporal in the U.S. Marines was threatened with discharge on Friday for being unvaccinated against COVID-19 — an act that would defy a court order made one day earlier. A federal judge granted an injunction blocking the Marine Corps from punishing service members to enforce the military-wide vaccine mandate.

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According to Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty organization that has supported legal challenges to the military vaccine mandates, the unnamed Marine corporal was called into his commander’s office on Friday. Once in the office, the Major and 1st Sergeant above him demanded to know if he “intended to continue fighting the shot mandate” and informed him that if he didn’t get the shot, he would be moved out of the office and battery duty and would be removed from the military. 

The reported interaction between this corporal and his superiors came the day after Judge Steven Merryday, of the U.S. District Court of Florida, granted a preliminary injunction in a class action lawsuit against the Marine Corps, barring them from taking action against Marines objecting to the COVID-19 vaccines on religious grounds.

Merryday’s order specifically defines the class in the case as any active or ready reserve Marines “who were affirmed by a chaplain as harboring a sincere religious objection, who timely submitted an initial request for a religious accommodation, who were denied the initial request, who
timely appealed the denial of the initial request, and who were denied or will be denied after appeal.”

The injunction prevents the service “from enforcing against a
member of the class any order, requirement, or rule to accept COVID-19 vaccination, from separating or discharging from the Marine Corps a member of the class who declines COVID-19 vaccination, and from retaliating against a member of the class for the member’s asserting statutory rights under [Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”

According to Liberty Counsel, the Marine corporal told the 1st Sergeant he wanted to provide his command with a copy of the class action certification and proof that he satisfied class eligibility for their records.

The 1st Sergeant reportedly responded, saying, “The class action doesn’t matter. Will you vaccinate by Monday or not?”  

The corporal pushed back by summarizing his stated religious objections to the vaccines. The 1st Sergeant then pulled out a pre-filled 6105 punishment form and insisted the Corporal sign it. The Corporal refused to sign the form as he said it was in direct violation of Judge Merryday’s order.

“This chain of command is now in contempt of court for violating this federal court order,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said of the alleged command interaction. “We will not tolerate this lawless behavior.” 

The preliminary injunction and class certification for Marines is one of several recent developments among a number of recent challenges to the military vaccine mandates.

In July, a federal judge in Ohio similarly granted a temporary restraining order and then the class certification and more robust preliminary injunction against the U.S. Air Force’s vaccine mandate. The judge in that case similarly defined protected Airmen in that lawsuit class as Airmen who registered their religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine, had a chaplain affirm their sincerely-held beliefs and have either had their requested accommodation denied or have not had any action taken on their requests.