The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit late today denied an emergency stay of a preliminary injunction issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in January, stopping the Department of Defense from punishing military service members who have religious objections to the vaccine mandate. The Navy asked the Fifth Circuit to stay the injunction, but a three-judge panel rejected that petition.
The court’s opinion can be read here.
“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,” said Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “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 Institute and Hacker Stevens LLP filed a federal lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of dozens of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel against the Biden Administration and the Department of Defense for their refusal to grant religious accommodations to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
In their opinion, the judges said, “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.”
The SEALs, who presently serve at various classified and confidential locations, 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 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.