Federal judge ruled in favor of Navy personnel suing the Biden administration over the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, concluding that plaintiffs would likely be successful in their claim that the requirement violates their religious freedom .
Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the North Texas District issued a preliminary injunction on Monday, arguing that the Navy had disregarded the military’s religious objections.
“The Navy provides a religious accommodation process, but in all respects it’s drama. The Navy has not granted religious exemptions to any vaccine in recent memory. It just approves every refusal, ”wrote O’Connor, a person appointed by George W. Bush.
“The Navy members in this case seek to defend the very freedoms they sacrificed so much to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic does not give the government any license to abrogate these freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed in November on behalf of 35 U.S. Navy personnel, including 26 Navy SEALs. They are represented by the First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based conservative legal nonprofit that specializes in religious freedom cases.
First Liberty General Counsel Mike Berry, who was a lawyer for seven years in the Marine Corps, said he was “satisfied” with the injunction. He argues that the mandate obliges military personnel “to choose between their faith and the service of their country.”
“[It’s] odious to the Constitution and to American values, ”he said in a statement.
“Punishing SEALs for simply asking for religious accommodation is purely vindictive and punitive. We are delighted that the tribunal has acted to protect our brave warriors before further damage is done to our national security. “
The lawsuit said several plaintiffs “have a sincere religious belief that all life is sacred, from conception to natural death, and that abortion is the inadmissible taking of innocent life in the womb.”
“Due to their sincere religious beliefs regarding life and abortion, several complainants cannot receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines due to what they believe and understand to be a connection between these vaccines and their testing, development or production. using aborted fetal cell lines, ”the complaint states.
The Pentagon announced in August that it would require U.S. military personnel to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September, citing combat readiness as the rationale.
“Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved, the department is ready to issue updated guidelines, requiring all members of the department to be vaccinated,” Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said at the time. .
“These efforts ensure the safety of our military personnel and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of communities in the country in which we live.”
According to a US Naval Institute report released last week, approximately 8,000 active-duty and reserve Navy personnel are unvaccinated, and approximately 3,000 requests for religious exemptions have been sent to the Navy.
Several complainants have received an “administrative advice / warning on COVID-19 vaccination”, stating that those who refuse to be vaccinated due to personal or religious beliefs will be disqualified from special operations unless their disqualification is lifted, the record of the court shows that the provision does not “concern medical contraindications or allergies to the administration of the vaccine”.
“The complainants were also informed that any religious accommodation that will be
offered will prevent them from deploying, ”said the trial.
There has been debate in some religious circles over the ethics of taking a vaccine that has used aborted fetal cell lines in their testing or development.
Pastor Robert Jeffress of the Dallas Mega-Church argued in September that there was no “credible” religious argument against COVID-19 vaccines. He suggested that people troubled by using a fetal cell line to test vaccines “should also refrain from using Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, ibuprofen and other products using the same line. cell phone if they are sincere in their objection. “
Roman Catholic Archbishop for Military Services Timothy P. Broglio issued a statement in October stressing that “no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of their conscience.”
“The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were tested using an abortion-derived cell line. This type of bond has for centuries been viewed as material cooperation at a distance with evil and is never a sin, ”Broglio wrote.
A poll released last month by the Washington, DC-based Public Religion Research Institute found that most Americans support some level of religious exemption from COVID-19 vaccines, though their views on when religious exemptions should be granted differ.
Thirty-nine percent of those polled said they either completely or overwhelmingly agreed that “anyone who simply says getting a COVID-19 vaccination goes against their religious beliefs” should be granted a religious exemption.
Fifty-five percent said anyone who “has a history of refusing to receive further vaccines” because of their religious beliefs should be able to apply for a religious exemption. Additionally, 57% agreed that anyone who “belongs to a religious group who has a history of refusing to receive other vaccines” should be able to apply for a religious exemption.