Navy Vaccine Exemption Case
Re: the Legality of Mandating Vaccines onto the Military without their Consent & against their Religious Objections
Facts of the Case
aka: U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden
- Dates: Jan 3, 2022
- Location: Texas, USA
- Court: US District Court for the Northern District of Texas
- Case #: Civil Action # 4:21-cv-01236-O
- Plaintiff: US Navy Seals, et al
- Plaintiffs Lawyers: First Liberty Institute
- Defendant: Biden Administration, DOD
- Trial Type:
- Judge: Reed O’Connor
- Status: Decided
- Verdict: For the Plaintiff
In response to the Biden Administration’s push to mandate that all military personnel get the covid vaccine, 35 navy seals filed a law suit against the Vaccine Mandate citing religious exemption.
This case arises from the United States Navy’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. Plaintiffs are thirty-five Navy Special Warfare servicemembers, including SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen, Navy Divers, and an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician. Compl. 1, 8–9, ECF No. 1. Together, they sue President Biden, Secretary of Defense Austin, Secretary of the Navy Del Toro, and the United States Department of Defense. 
In August 2021, the Department of Defense (“DoD”) issued a vaccine mandate directing all DoD service members to be vaccinated against COVID-19.Pls.’ App. 146–47, ECF No. 17. The Department of the Navy also implemented its own mandate requiring all active-duty Navy service members to be fully vaccinated before November 28 or face the “full range” of disciplinary action. Pls.’ App. 149–50, ECF No. 17.For service members assigned to Special Operations duty, the Navy’s vaccination policy reads: 
[Special Operations] personnel refusing to receive recommended vaccines… based solely on personal or religious beliefs are disqualified. This provision does not pertain to medical contraindications or allergies to vaccine administration.
By early November, 99.4% of active-duty Navy service members had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Pls.’ App. 284, ECF No. 17. Plaintiffs are part of the remaining 0.6%. Representing the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant branches of Christianity, Plaintiffs object to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine based on their religious beliefs. 
While it allowed service members to apply for religious exemptions to the mandate, it has not granted a single one. In fact, as of Dec. 17, the religious accommodation requests of at least 29 of the 35 naval plaintiffs had been flatly denied. 
The service members who filed the lawsuit represent more than 350 collective years of military service, and more than 100 combat deployments. When they inquired about seeking religious accommodation for the vaccine, the Navy informed many of them that they could face court-martial or involuntary separation if they refused to take the vaccine. 
One year ago, Biden told Fox News that COVID vaccines should not be mandatory, telling White House correspondent Peter Doocy at the time that he “wouldn’t demand it to be mandatory.” 
“I would do everything in my power, just like I don’t think masks have to be made mandatory nationwide.” 
This case asks the question if a soldier has individual rights and if the DoD actively violates those.
Berry told (Fox News) host Martha MacCallum that every one of the plaintiffs in the case has a unique individual religious belief, as well as the right to hold and exercise that belief — no matter Biden’s or the Pentagon’s view. 
“Many of them object to the fact that the vaccine was tested or developed or produced using aborted fetal cells. Others prayed to God [and said] ‘God, what do you want me to do? And God said no.’”
“It would violate their conscience and religious convictions to get the vaccine. Under the law, that is absolutely protected in this country.”
…More information is needed…
Relevant Prior Judgements/ Cases
…More information is needed…
Heritage.com explains: 
In his order, (Judge) O’Connor granted an injunction against the Biden administration and the Department of Defense, preventing them from enforcing the vaccine mandate against any of the named service members who had applied for a religious exemption.
O’Connor ruled that the blanket denial of their religious waiver requests amounted to a violation of the service members’ rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Under that law, the government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that burden is (1) in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
For O’Connor, the violation of the law was clear:
Defendants have substantially burdened Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs. The government burdens religion when it ‘put[s] substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs.’
That is especially true when the government imposes a choice between one’s job and one’s religious belief. Here, Plaintiffs must decide whether to lose their livelihoods or violate sincerely held religious beliefs.
Because they will not compromise these religious beliefs, Plaintiffs have been threatened with separation from the military and other disciplinary action.
According to the First Liberty Institute, the public interest law firm representing the service members, each of the denials appeared to be identical, suggesting the Navy had not taken any of the religious exemption requests seriously.
O’Connor made note of this in his order, calling the process for seeking a religious exemption nothing more than “theater,” stating that the Navy “merely rubber-stamps each denial,” and stressing that “the record overwhelmingly demonstrates that the Navy’s religious-accommodation process is an exercise in futility.”
“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor wrote, adding:
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 Judgement ends: 
This Court does not make light of COVID-19’s impact on the military. Collectively, our armed forces have lost 80 lives to COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. Defs.’ App. 263,ECF No. 44-3. But the question before the Court is not whether a public interest exists. Rather, this Court must address whether an injunction will disserve the public interest. An injunction does not disserve the public interest when it prevents constitutional deprivations. Jackson Women’s Health, 760 F.3d at458 n.9.
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. Hospitalizations are rising at a much slower rate than COVID-19cases. COVID-19treatments are becoming more effective and widely available
The Judge also quoted George Washington, referring to the rights of soldiers as separate from the state:
“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.” (1775).
Those words are carved into the marble of the Memorial Amphitheater in the Arlington National Cemetery.
Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute, said:
Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values … . 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.
The next stop in the litigation is likely to be an appeal by the Department of Defense and the Biden administration to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
- Other federal court challenges to various COVID-19 vaccine mandates are ongoing.
- On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a set of high-profile, consolidated cases on the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates for private-sector entities with 100 or more employees, and for health care facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funding.
- The Heritage Foundation, a petitioner in the case challenging the private-sector vaccine mandate, has asked the court to invalidate the government’s order. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
In the news:
Pilots sue Biden Vaccine Mandate
source: Real America’s Voice
Covid vaccine deadline today for U.S. military
source: CNBC Television
Navy’s Vaccine Mandate
Source: KRIS 6 News
- Court Delivers Win to Military Members Denied Religious Exemptions From Pentagon Vaccine Mandate
- Court Ruling
- Biden showing ‘religious hostility’ toward SEALs at center of vax mandate suit
Administration, Biden, Constitution, Department of Defense, District Court for the Northern District of Texas, DOD, Exemption, First Amendment, First Liberty Institute, Military, Naval Special Warfare personnel, Navy, O’Connor, Religious, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Seals,