The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Monday evening sided with 35 Navy SEALs and denied the Navy’s petition for an emergency stay of an injunction preventing the Department of Defense from punishing them over their religious objections to the vaccine mandate.
The Navy had asked the Fifth Circuit to stay a preliminary injunction granted in January by a federal court in Texas to the 35 Navy SEALs who sued the Department of Defense over the vaccine mandate.
A three-judge panel rejected the Navy’s petition, writing in their opinion:
The Navy has not accommodated any religious request to abstain from any vaccination in seven years, and to date it has denied all religiously based claims for exemption from COVID-19… . But evidence…suggests that the Navy has effectively stacked the deck against even those exemptions supported by Plaintiffs’ immediate commanding officers and military chaplains.
Considering the record as a whole, we agree with the district court that Defendants have not shown a compelling interest to deny religious accommodations to each of these 35 Plaintiffs. Indeed, the ‘marginal interest’ in vaccinating each Plaintiff appears to be negligible; consequently, Defendants lack a sufficiently compelling interest to vaccinate Plaintiffs.
Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, who is representing the Navy SEALs, said in a statement:
Events around the world remind us daily that there are those who seek to harm America. Our military should be welcoming service members, not forcing them out because of their religious beliefs.
The purge of religious servicemembers is not just devastating to morale, but it harms America’s national security. It’s time for our military to honor its constitutional obligations and grant religious accommodations for service members with sincere religious objections to the vaccine. We’re grateful the Fifth Circuit denied the Navy’s motion.
First Liberty said the SEALs collectively have more than 350 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 the plaintiffs that they could face court-martial or involuntary separation if they don’t receive the vaccine. Each of their religious accommodation denials appear to be identical, suggesting the Navy is not taking their requests seriously,” the institute said in a statement.
“The Navy also warned some of the plaintiffs that if they sought a religious exemption, the Navy would confiscate their Special Warfare devices—such as the famous SEAL ‘Trident’ — that they proudly wear on their uniforms,” it added.
The Biden administration ordered a vaccine mandate for all service members in August and so far, more than 1,000 service members who have not complied have been discharged.
There are potentially tens of thousands more service members who may be discharged.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) introduced a bill that would reinstate discharged service members and prohibit any punishment for those who are still serving, as Breitbart News first reported.
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