Federal Judge Steven Merryday granted a preliminary injunction yesterday in Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin for a United States Marine Corps Captain who faced punishment after the military rejected his appeal from a denial for a religious accommodation from the shot mandate.
The preliminary injunction enjoins the Department of Defense (DOD) and the respective military branches “(1) from enforcing against USMC Captain any order or regulation requiring COVID-19 vaccination, (2) from separating USMC Captain from the Marine Corps, and (3) from any retaliatory action against USMC Captain as a result of, or arising from, USMC Captain’s requesting a religious accommodation, appealing the denial of a request for religious accommodation, or pursuing this action or any other action for relief under Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or the First Amendment.”
In his order Judge Merryday wrote, “Because USMC Captain faces immediate processing for separation or other punishment, the record shows irreparable harm will result absent injunctive relief.”
The U.S. Marine Corps previously ordered the Captain to accept the COVID-19 vaccination no later than March 3, 2022 or face “punitive and/or administrative action.” The Marine Corps then extended the time within which USMC Captain must undergo vaccination and on March 28, 2022, ordered USMC the Captain to undergo vaccination not later than April 1, 2022.
Judge Merryday wrote, “Although claiming that ‘Immunizations are a critical component of individual and unit readiness,’ the Deputy Commandant identifies no evidence detailing why the vaccination of USMC Captain is on the margin a critical component of USMC Captain’s individual or unit readiness. Further, the denial letter places USMC Captain at a distinct disadvantage on appeal.”
The Court further stated, “Because the Marine Corps predicates USMC Captain’s denial on broadly claimed governmental interests and generalized assessments of least restrictive means, the Marine Corps fails to satisfy RFRA’s burden ‘to the person.’ For these reasons and others stated in the February 18 order, USMC Captain enjoys a substantial likelihood of successfully challenging under RFRA the Marine Corps’ denial of USMC Captain’s request for a religious accommodation from the requirement to receive vaccination from COVID-19.”
This USMC Captain enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2014, graduating from recruit training in March 2015. After serving with a Law Enforcement Battalion and earning his undergraduate degree, USMC Captain was selected for Officer Candidate School, and commissioned as a second lieutenant in 2016. After graduating from The Basic School, he attended the Military Police Basic Officer Course, with his first duty assignment at a Marine Corps Law Enforcement Battalion as a Platoon Commander. He has attended courses in Norway and commanded a Military Police Integrated Company during a NATO Exercise and has been deployed in several locations, including Africa. USMC Captain desires to continue serving in the Marine Corps, consistent with his Islamic religious beliefs that require him to abstain from participation in that which is haram—forbidden—including the destruction and commoditization of innocent human life as exemplified by the commercial use of human fetal cell lines derived from abortions.
On February 18, Judge Merryday granted a preliminary injunction for two service members in Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin who were denied religious exemptions from the COVID shot mandate. The court based its ruling on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), finding that the Marines and the Navy failed to demonstrate “to the individualized person” two of RFRA’s essential requirements on government action that burdens a person’s sincere religious belief – a compelling interest and the least restrictive means. This conclusion alone will essentially undo the blanket requirement placed on service members to get the COVID shots when such action burdens their sincere religious beliefs.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is a great victory for this U.S. Marine Corps Captain who was denied a religious exemption from the shot mandate. Liberty Counsel is honored to continue this legal fight for our courageous military members. Every service member deserves protection from this abusive shot mandate, and we will continue to fight for their freedom.”