District Judge Reed O’Connor has ruled to block any severe punishment on Navy SEALs who refuse to get their Covid-19 vaccination doses due to religious obligation or objection. The suit states that the punishment laid by the Navy harms the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the Constitution along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Both of these Acts allow individuals to follow and exercise their religion freely.
The initial vaccine policy, put forward by the Biden administration asks all service members to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to serve and get assigned to operations. Those that do not get vaccinated without a legitimate reason may suffer from the consequences of the decisions made by their superiors.
According to the decision made by Judge O’Connor, Navy SEALs cannot be punished for refusal to get their Covid vaccination if they have a religious objection, with an Act in place to protect their religious freedom. “The Navy service members, 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,” said Judge O’Connor’s order.
The 35 Navy SEALs who filed the lawsuit accused the Navy of “disdain for religious vaccine accommodations” against them, all the while, maintaining and entertaining “certain secular vaccine exemptions.”
There are several other lawsuits currently underway in the federal court, against the Biden administration, some of them heavily backed by Republican members, against the administration’s vaccine mandates and restrictions at work. There has been no comment by the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense on the matter of the decision so far, as the decision bars any severe action against not just the Navy SEALs who filed the lawsuit but all other special service members as well protected under the two Acts mentioned above.
Mike Berry, first counsel at the First Liberty Institute, a legal organization dedicated to defending U.S. religious freedoms, said, “Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” representing all the plaintiffs in the matter.