FORT WORTH, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - On Monday, a federal judge in Texas issued a temporary injunction against President Joe Biden's military vaccine mandate.
Monday's injunction prevents the U.S. Department of Defense from punishing a group of Navy SEALs who are refusing the vaccine on religious grounds.
Judge Reed O'Connor, the U.S. district court judge for the Northern District of Texas, issued the preliminary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of 35 SEALs. The injunction applies only to the servicemen involved in the lawsuit — not to the military as a whole.
In his 26-page decision, O'Connor stated, "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."
The SEALs represented in the lawsuit come from various Christian denominations and objected to the vaccine mandate due to "their sincerely held religious beliefs." The SEALs all requested a religious exemption from the mandate but allege the Pentagon failed to respond in a timely manner to their requests. The servicemen claim this is a violation of their constitutional rights. The Pentagon has yet to approve a request for a religious exemption from any military member.
Every branch of the military has received thousands of religious-exemption requests vis-à-vis the military vaccine mandate, and the armed forces have issued a number of denials. All branches have reached their deadlines for members to receive the vaccine. Last month, the Navy and Air Force began dismissing unvaccinated members.
Speaking on the recent injunction, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, "We are aware of the injunction and are reviewing it."
The SEALs' case has widespread support from Republican lawmakers. In December, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other Republicans in Congress signed an amicus brief in support of the SEALs' lawsuit. The brief argued, "Defendants' vaccine mandate forces plaintiffs — individuals who have devoted their lives to the protection of the country — to choose between following their sincerely held religious convictions and effectively being discharged, losing their calling and destroying their financial well-being."
First Liberty Institute, the legal organization that represented the plaintiff servicemen, praised O'Connor's ruling.
The general counsel for First Liberty Institute, Mike Berry, remarked 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. 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.
O'Connor's ruling says, in part:
Our nation asks the men and women in our military to serve, suffer and sacrifice. But we do not ask them to lay aside their citizenry and give up the very rights they have sworn to protect. Every president since the signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has praised the men and women of the military for their bravery and service in protecting the freedoms this country guarantees.
In this case, members of the military seek protection under those very freedoms. Thirty-five Navy Special Warfare service members allege that the military's mandatory vaccination policy violates their religious freedoms under the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Navy provides a religious accommodation process, but, by all accounts, it is theater. The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory. It merely rubber-stamps each denial. The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect.
The full text of the ruling can be found here.