by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read
A federal judge recently issued a temporary order preventing disciplinary action against two officers who requested a religious accommodation to the military vaccine mandate.
Judge Steven Merryday—serving on the District Court for the Middle District of Florida—strongly rebuked the military’s approach to religious accommodation requests. His order stated:
“The military is well aware of the frailty of their arguments in defense of their practices…The two service members are very likely to prevail on their claim that their respective branch of the military has wrongfully denied a religious exemption from COVID-19 vaccination. The record creates a strong inference that the services are discriminatorily and systematically denying religious exemptions without a meaningful and fair hearing.”
This is certainly favorable for America’s men and women in uniform. Many are facing potential punishment and even career-ending threats for seeking a legal, religious accommodation.
Both federal law and military regulations protect their right to seek a religious accommodation from any requirement—including vaccines—that burden their sincerely held religious beliefs. In other words, service members do not give up their religious liberty when they join the military.
This order, however, is only the most recent win. Recall that First Liberty secured the first major win in federal court protecting the freedoms of our nation’s elite warriors.
We’re representing multiple U.S. Navy SEALs and Naval Special Warfare personnel challenging the mandate. Last month, a federal district court in Texas ordered the Department of Defense not to punish our clients while the case moves forward. Judge Reed O’Connor made it clear:
“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”
But it seems some military officials are not getting the memo. They’ve chosen to ignore what the courts have ordered.
Our attorneys recently filed documentation with the court detailing how our Navy SEAL clients continue being punished. We’re asking the judge to hold the Navy in contempt of court for violating this order.
Shockingly, because of this vindictive and discriminatory approach, one of our elite warriors who sustained a traumatic brain injury is being denied permission to travel to a treatment facility. Even after he offered to pay for his treatment out of pocket, multiple high-ranking Naval officers in his command began calling the treatment center and asking if it would deny treatment to someone who is unvaccinated, delaying his request long enough for him to lose his spot at the treatment center.
In another example of punitive action, one client has been held up at a training facility for four months, where he was only supposed to be for four weeks. And he must get special permission to go off base for basic necessities such as groceries and gas. In addition, SEAL clients are being denied training and deployment opportunities.
The vindictive approach that some Department of Defense officials persist on taking is reprehensible. This religious discrimination must stop. Forcing our brave military heroes into a corner and making them choose between their faith and serving their country dishonors the sacrifices they make to keep us free.
These punitive actions aren’t just outrageous. They are illegal. All service members are protected by federal law and military regulations, so they can serve our country without having to violate their faith.
Our brave heroes need your help. Together, we can put a stop to the abusive tactics of certain Navy officials and protect these SEALs from further injustice. Please donate to First Liberty today.