Federal choose blocks Pentagon from punishing Navy sailors who decline COVID-19 vaccine

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Washington — A federal choose in Texas blocked the Department of Defense on Monday from punishing 35 members of the Navy who refused to be vaccinated towards COVID-19 in compliance with the service’s vaccine mandate as a result of non secular objections.

The group of Christian Navy personnel, together with SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant Craft crewmen, divers and an explosive ordnance disposal technician, introduced their case towards President Biden and the Defense Department in November and argued the Navy’s vaccine mandate violates the First Amendment and federal legislation. 

The service members requested the court docket to cease the Defense Department from imposing the coverage, to which they’re looking for non secular lodging, towards them and prohibit the Navy from taking “adverse action” towards them for not getting vaccinated towards COVID-19.

In a 26-page order granting the Naval Special Warfare Command members reduction, Judge Reed O’Connor referred to as the Navy’s non secular lodging course of for its vaccination coverage “theater” and mentioned it “rubber stamps each denial” for a spiritual exemption.

“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor, appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote in his order. “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 Defense Department issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members in August, and the Department of the Navy required all active-duty Navy personnel to be totally vaccinated towards COVID-19 earlier than November 28 or face self-discipline. 

The Navy members who filed swimsuit towards the Pentagon sought non secular lodging to the vaccine requirement, citing their non secular beliefs for his or her objections to receiving COVID-19 pictures. But the Navy has denied most of their requests, a lot of which have been appealed, in accordance with court docket filings. 

O’Connor wrote in his orders that the Navy service members are seemingly to reach pursuing their claims that the vaccine mandate is unconstitutional and in violation of federal legislation.

“The plaintiffs’ loss of religious liberties outweighs any forthcoming harm to the Navy,” he wrote. “Even the direst circumstances cannot justify the loss of constitutional rights.”

O’Connor referred to as the Navy’s non secular lodging course of an “exercise in futility” and mentioned the service members “need not wait for the Navy to rubber stamp a constitutional violation before seeking relief in court.”

The Defense Department in December started disciplinary actions and discharges towards members who’ve declined to adjust to the vaccine mandate, with as much as 20,000 unvaccinated service members dealing with removing. In the Navy, greater than 98% have been totally vaccinated towards COVID-19, although 5,328 active-duty members had been unvaccinated as of December 29, in accordance with the service.

More than 2,800 active-duty Navy personnel have requested non secular lodging, although none have been accepted. 

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