U.S. service members sign away their lives to undergo specific, challenging, and dangerous training to protect the country while ensuring national security at all times. Despite this voluntary sacrifice, several dozen unnamed Navy SEALs and sailors joined a lawsuit on Tuesday citing First Amendment violations pertaining to the vaccine mandate.
Prompting the lawsuit, the military has reportedly failed to grant religious exemptions to the Covid-19 vaccine requirement.
The lawsuit, filed by First Liberty, names 26 Navy SEALs, five special warfare combatant craft crewmen, three Navy divers and one explosive ordnance disposal technician as plaintiffs. Defendants listed include Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro.
The lawsuit references not only the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right to exercise freedom of religious practice, but also the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, Department of Defense regulations, and Department of Navy regulations – all of which protect religious freedom.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims there has been a failure to protect these well established laws by the Navy and the DOD who have allegedly committed “unlawful, contrary to law, and arbitrary and capricious” acts.
Although the granting of religious exemptions became a political battle over the course of the last year since vaccines were approved for use among the public, there are several laws that strengthen the plaintiffs’ legal arguments.
Still, very few exemptions to vaccines in general have been granted. When it comes to the Covid-19 vaccines, no exemption had been approved in the Navy as of Oct. 28.
Even though the DOD previously announced they would be honoring religious exemptions, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s official vaccine mandate memorandum threatens “adverse” consequences for service members if they fail to get inoculated by the established deadline.
Their punishment includes, but is not limited to, “court-martial (criminal) prosecution, involuntary separation, relief for cause from leadership positions, removal from promotion lists, inability to attend certain military training and education schools, loss of special pay, placement in a non-deployable status, recoupment of money spent training the service member, and loss of leave and travel privileges for both official and unofficial purposes.” These appear to be the same applicable consequences for the Navy, as well.
Despite promises to protect religious exemptions in the workplace, Biden officials have contradicted themselves when it comes to taking action.
It should be worth noting that the DOD reiterated earlier in August “We take freedom of religion and worship seriously, in the military, it’s one of the things that we sign up to defend,” he said. “And so it’s something that’s done very carefully,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby stated at the time.
Although the administration may say they protect such rights verbally, their actions have yet to prove otherwise as they have sought to make it virtually impossible for any potential employee in both the private and public sector to be granted a religious exemption.
In fact, even a Navy spokesperson, according to First Liberty, indicated that “multiple religious accommodation requests related to the COVID vaccine mandate have been adjudicated and none have yet been approved(…) in the past seven years, no religious exemption from vaccination waivers were approved for any other vaccine.”
The past year has revived concerns of just how much power and overreach the federal government is capable of obtaining, especially if general citizenry does not react to questionable conducts that otherwise would have been criticized under other previous administrations.
The plaintiffs are reassured they hold legal jurisdiction to allow the case to continue. It is yet to be seen whether a judge will issue a preliminary and permanent injunction that prohibits the military from obligating service members with strongly held religious convictions to get the Covid-19 vaccine.