By Mimi Nguyen Ly
A federal court has granted a preliminary injunction to a group of 35 Navy Special Warfare service members—among them 26 Navy SEALs—who sued the Biden administration for denying them religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The preliminary injunction, issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, stops the Department of Defense from taking any actions against the group for refusing the jab while litigation plays out.
Non-profit law firm First Liberty Institute had filed the lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of the Navy service members on Nov. 9, 2021.
“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” Judge Reed O’Connor said in his order (pdf) on Monday. “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.”
He also wrote, “Defendants must provide more than a broadly formulated interest in ‘national security.’ They must articulate a compelling interest in vaccinating the thirty-five religious servicemembers currently before the Court.”
“Without individualized assessment, the Navy cannot demonstrate a compelling interest in vaccinating these particular Plaintiffs,” he wrote in another part of the order. “By all accounts, Plaintiffs have safely carried out their jobs during the pandemic. … Even if Defendants have a broad compelling interest in widespread vaccination of its force, they have achieved this goal without the participation of the thirty-five Plaintiffs here. At least 99.4 percent of all active-duty Navy service members have been vaccinated. … The remaining 0.6 percent is unlikely to undermine the Navy’s efforts.”
General Counsel for First Liberty Institute Mike Berry said the group is happy with the court’s decision.
“Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” he said in a statement. “Punishing SEALs for simply asking for a religious accommodation is purely vindictive and punitive. We’re pleased that the court has acted to protect our brave warriors before more damage is done to our national security.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Aug. 24, 2021, issued a memorandum saying that all military service members must receive a COVID-19 vaccine, after which all the branches of the military announced various deadlines for its troops to be fully vaccinated, regardless of whether they had previously recovered from a bout of COVID-19, and threatening suspensions or other disciplinary actions if service members didn’t have a pending exemption request or failed to comply.
The Epoch Times has contacted the Biden administration, the Department of Defense, and the Navy for comment on the court ruling.
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