Navy SEALs cite religious concerns in suit against vaccine mandate

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Twenty-six members of the elite Navy SEALs filed a lawsuit sued Tuesday claiming the government is arbitrarily refusing their requests for religious exemptions from the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

Nine other Navy personnel involved in special operations joined the action, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court’s Northern Texas District, including five special warfare combatant craft crewmen, three Navy divers and one explosive ordnance disposal technician.

The plaintiffs, listed anonymously to protect their classified and confidential locations, claim they’ve been threatened with court-martial or involuntary separation from the service. 

Attorneys with the public-interest law firm First Liberty Institute, which filed the suit, said they represent service members with a combined total of more than 350 years of military service and over 100 combat deployments.

The lawsuit claims the mandate violates the First Amendment right to religious free exercise, as well as provisions of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that the vaccine mandates are not in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act.

The plaintiffs claimed various reasons for seeking religious exemptions, including objections to the alleged use of “aborted fetal cell lines” in the development, testing, or manufacture of the COVID-19 jabs. 

“Multiple plaintiffs,” the complaint alleges, believe “God instructed them” not to receive the vaccine. One said they have a “sincere religious belief” that “trace animal cells … such as from swine” should not be injected into their body.

The Washington Times asked the Defense Department’s public affairs office for comment and did not immediately receive a response.

To date, the Navy has not granted a single religious exemption to the COVID-19 mandate, the plaintiffs allege, though the service has the discretion to grant such exemptions. 

Although the Navy said it has granted “five permanent medical exemptions” to vaccination, the plaintiffs claim, the service has not approved any religious vaccine exemptions “in the past seven years,” the lawsuit claims.

“This disdain for religious vaccine accommodations contrasts with Defendants’ grant of certain secular vaccine exemptions,” the filing states.

Attorney Mike Berry of First Liberty Institute said in a statement, “This appears to be an attempted ideological purge. Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values. … It’s appalling and it has to stop before any more harm is done to our national security.”

Federal mandates on COVID-19 vaccinations are being challenged in various courts, with dozens of actions filed last week opposing the Labor Department’s order that firms with 100 or more workers must ensure all employees are either vaccinated or tested weekly. 

On Saturday the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily blocked implementation of the private-business mandate pending further review.

But the military has a long history of requiring vaccinations, going back to George Washington’s order at the end of 1776 that soldiers in the Continental Army be inoculated against smallpox, which had caused many deaths in the fledgling fighting force.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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