Judge blocks discharge of marines denied religious exemptions to Covid vaccines

by Samantha Flom

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Rachaelanne Woodward/Released 

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the U.S. Marine Corps’ Covid-19 vaccine mandate, preventing the discharge of hundreds of marines whose religious accommodation requests were denied.

Granting the classwide preliminary injunction Thursday, U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday ordered, “The defendants are PRELIMINARILY ENJOINED (1) from enforcing against a member of the class any order, requirement, or rule to accept Covid-19 vaccination, (2) from separating or discharging from the Marine Corps a member of the class who declines Covid-19 vaccination, and (3) from retaliating against a member of the class for the member’s asserting statutory rights under RFRA.”

Out of 3,733 religious accommodation requests, the judge noted that the Marine Corps had only granted 11, and those were to service members already “due for retirement and prompt separation.” Given the otherwise “monolithic series of rejections,” he said it was likely that the Corps had failed to conduct the thorough evaluations required under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“The pertinent history in this action reports that … in not one case has the Marine Corps agreed to allow any accommodation, including any already-proven-successful health and safety protocol, to reasonably accommodate both the health and readiness of the Marine Corps and the sincere religious belief of a fellow Marine,” Merryday said.

The judge certified a class comprising all active-duty and reserve Marines who: were affirmed by a chaplain to have a sincere religious objection, had their initial requests for religious accommodation denied, and filed timely appeals that “were denied or will be denied after appeal.”

According to The Epoch Times, the class is represented by Liberty Counsel, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to protecting religious liberty.

“Our courageous U.S. Marines finally have relief from these unlawful COVID shot mandates,” Liberty Counsel Chairman and Founder Mat Staver said, per the outlet.

He continued, “The Department of Defense has relentlessly violated the law and ignored their religious freedom. Today, that lawlessness ends.”

The preliminary injunction follows a string of court cases in which military service members have fought against Joe Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

In July, a federal judge sided with unvaccinated members of the Air Force by pausing enforcement of the mandate against them as their case moved forward. 

In March, a group of Navy SEALs scored a similar though short-lived victory in their battle for religious freedom, as weeks later, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Department of Defense by allowing a stay on the preliminary injunction granted by a lower court.

And military service members are not the only people challenging the mandates. 

Recently, in a win for medical freedom, a group of health care workers in Illinois won $10 million in a legal settlement after challenging their employer’s Covid vaccine mandate.

With new information about the vaccines emerging every day, one can expect such legal challenges to continue to spring up over the coming months.

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