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4 Jan, 2022 09:45

Judge rules on US Navy SEALs vaccination dispute

US judge rules in favor of Navy SEALs refusing vaccination on religious grounds
Judge rules on US Navy SEALs vaccination dispute

A Texas court ruled that it would be unconstitutional for the US Navy to punish service members seeking a religious exemption from President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate.

District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary order on Monday blocking the Navy and the Department of Defense from enforcing their vaccine rules.

“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” the judge wrote in his decision. “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.”

The judge was acting on a lawsuit filed by 35 service members, including SEALs and Navy crewmen and divers, who wanted to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds. According to court documents, the plaintiffs are Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Protestants. 

The plaintiffs faced disqualification for refusing, which would make them “permanently non-deployable,” the judge wrote.

The judge noted that 99.4% of active-duty Navy service member had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by early November.

First Liberty Institute, a legal organization representing the plaintiffs, welcomed the order. “Punishing SEALs for simply asking for a religious accommodation is purely vindictive and punitive,” the group’s general counsel, Michael Berry, said in a statement to the media.

The Navy did not comment on the matter. “We are aware of the injunction and are reviewing it,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.

President Joe Biden’s wider vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees is currently facing a challenge in the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hold a special hearing on the matter on Friday.