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A federal judge barred the U.S. Department of Defense from punishing a group of Navy SEALs who refused COVID-19 vaccines on religious grounds on Monday.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, acting in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of 35 Navy Special Warfare servicemembers — including SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen, Navy Divers, and an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician — issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Navy and Defense Department from enforcing the mandate, Reuters reports.
“The Navy provides a religious accommodation process, but by all accounts, it is theater,” the judge said in the injunction. “The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory.”
O’Connor said the Navy had not granted a single religious exemption to the vaccine rule, but rather “It merely rubber stamps each denial.”
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” the judge wrote in the 26-page decision. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms.”
A legal organization dedicated to defending U.S. religious freedoms, First Liberty Institute, represented the SEALs and hailed the ruling as a victory.
“Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” said Mike Berry, the institute’s general counsel, said in a written statement reported by Reuters.
Before the judge issued the preliminary injunction, the 35 Navy Special Warfare servicemembers had faced a range of military discipline actions for refusing the vaccine.
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