On March 25, a federal judge expanded his previous injunction prohibiting the discharge of U.S. Navy members who refuse to take the mandated COVID-19 vaccination for religious reasons.
Last year, thirty-five sailors, many of whom were Navy SEALS, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Torro for denying them religious exemptions from the COVID-19 mandate. No active personnel have been granted a religious exemption, even though Navy guidelines allow it.
In January of this year, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction to the group of thirty-five. The injunction prohibits the Navy from taking disciplinary action against the sailors while the litigation plays out in court.
At the end of March, Judge O’Connor agreed to expand the preliminary injunction to protect all 4,000 Navy members who have been denied religious exemptions.
He also agreed that the case could move forward as a class-action lawsuit since all of the sailors involved shared similar characteristics: they had all been denied a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate, and they all were facing the possibility of being discharged from the Navy.
The Navy has discharged 630 people from the Navy for refusing the vaccine. Navy guidelines allow for exemptions to the vaccine for religious and other grounds. Still, an exemption has yet to be granted to any active-duty or reserve personnel on religious grounds.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that hundreds of exemptions have been granted for medical and administrative reasons, and nine inactive reserve members have been granted religious exemptions, ABC News reports.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin introduced the vaccine mandate in 2021 to limit the impact of COVID-19 on the operational missions of the U.S. Armed Forces. The Navy has argued that vaccinations are necessary, as the close quarters of its working environments had become breeding grounds for respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19.
The Biden administration’s argument also cites ‘operational readiness’ as a reason for the vaccination mandate. Lawyers for the administration argued that Navy SEALs who fall ill during a mission place themselves and their squad at risk.
Judge O’Connor’s injunction does not prohibit the Navy from considering vaccination status “when making deployment, assignment, or other operational decisions.”
The Biden administration revealed that 99% of active personnel of the U.S. Navy are vaccinated.
“The best defense against this deadly infectious disease (COVID-19) is to get vaccinated. It is unfortunate this decision was rendered, given we need a healthy and strong military,” said The Immunization Partnership in a statement to The Dallas Express. “While individuals have the right to make the best decisions for themselves, any decision made comes with the responsibility of accepting consequences, which it seems some do not want to accept. It is also worth noting that most religions do not object to vaccines or vaccination.”
The Dallas Express also reached out to Texans for Vaccine Freedom but had not received a response as of press time.
The legal case regarding vaccination mandates is expected to continue for months.