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Judge Blocks Disciplinary Action Against Navy Seals Who Refused COVID Vaccine

There will be no punitive action against 35 service members who refused the COVID vaccine based on religious exemptions

On Monday, a federal judge barred the U.S. Department of Defense from punishing a group of Navy SEALs and other special forces members who refused COVID-19 vaccines on religious grounds.

In response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of 35 special forces service members, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Navy and Defense Department from enforcing the mandate.

O’Connor said the Navy had not granted a single religious exemption to the vaccine rule.

“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,” the judge wrote in a 26-page decision.

The 35 service members have been facing a range of military discipline actions for refusing the vaccine.

Biden set a Dec. 14 deadline for all U.S. military personnel to be vaccinated but allowed exemptions on religious grounds. However, the Navy has approved none of the 3,247 requests for religious exemption thus far.

First Liberty Institute, which represented the 35 service members, hailed the ruling as a victory. The legal organization is dedicated to defending U.S. religious freedoms.

Mike Berry, the general counsel in the case, said in a written statement, “Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values.”

Of the 35 SEALs named in the suit, 19 had a religious exemption denied by the Navy. 

“The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory. It merely rubber stamps each denial,” O’Connor wrote.

“The Plaintiffs’ loss of religious liberties outweighs any forthcoming harm to the Navy. Even the direst circumstances cannot justify the loss of constitutional rights. Fortunately, the future does not look so dire. Nearly 100% of the Navy has been vaccinated,” he added.

As of last week, the Marine Corps had dismissed 206 Marines for refusing to follow vaccine mandates.

The ruling is the latest resistance in a series of legal disputes over Covid-19 vaccine mandates ordered by President Joe Biden. The mandates have proven to be deeply controversial among many U.S. citizens, in both the public and private sectors.

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