U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin has requested the U.S. Supreme Court stay (i.e., block) a lower court decision favoring 35 members of the Naval Special Warfare Command, including 26 Navy SEALs, who face punishment and discharge from the military for objecting – on religious grounds – to receiving a required COVID-19 vaccine.
The Secretary’s application to Justice Samuel Alito “seeks relief from a preliminary injunction that usurps the Navy’s authority to decide which servicemembers should be deployed to execute some of the military’s most sensitive and dangerous missions.”
The application asserts that the lower courts’ rulings are jeopardizing missions.
“The court’s preliminary injunction not only prohibits the Navy from applying the COVID-19 vaccination requirement to respondents, but also requires the Navy to assign and deploy them without regard to their lack of vaccinations notwithstanding military leaders’ judgment that doing so poses intolerable risks to safety and mission success.”
The Secretary argues that Navy SEALs operate under extreme conditions. They can be called on to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice and operate in small teams and in close quarters for extended periods of time. And they must, according to Secretary Austin, be “as physically and medically prepared as possible.”
But as the 5th Circuit pointed out when it refused to block a similar request from the Navy just recently, the government is not being totally honest in making that argument.
“The Navy has granted hundreds of medical exemptions from vaccination requirements, allowing those service members to seek medical waivers and become deployable,” the three-judge panel wrote on February 28. “But it has not accommodated any religious objection to any vaccine in seven years, preventing those seeking such accommodations from even being considered for medical waivers.”
In other words, if the Navy has handed down hundreds of medical waivers but no religious waivers, the issue is really about government hostility toward religion, not military readiness.
First Liberty Institute represents the Navy SEALs.
“Both [Federal District Court] Judge O’Connor and the Fifth Circuit got it right; there is no Covid exception to our Constitution. But the Biden Administration appears to be more interested in promoting its harmful agenda than in defending the Constitution,” said Mike Berry, Vice President of External Affairs, Director of Military Affairs, and Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute, in a press release. “As the Fifth Circuit did last week, the U.S. Supreme Court should reject this latest attempt to punish our clients and make clear, once and for all, that our service members do not forfeit their religious freedom because they are in the military.”
Justice Alito has asked for a response from the 35 servicemembers who brought the case by March 14.
The case is Austin v. U.S. Navy Seals.
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