by Megan Moses • 7 min read
This week, First Liberty argued on behalf of our U.S. Navy SEALs clients at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. These elite service members have encountered unjust treatment for requesting legal, religious accommodations to the military vaccine mandate.
If you’ve been following this case, you know this doesn’t just impact our Navy SEAL clients. Thousands in the Navy and Air Force—including some of First Liberty’s own team members—were mistreated, denied deployment and advancement opportunities, and threatened with being kicked out of the military simply because they wanted to serve in a manner consistent with their beliefs. Even their families have been impacted, with many of them being denied medical insurance for their children or faced with losing their hard-earned military benefits.
One of our own Navy SEAL clients sat down to share the outrageous discrimination he experienced. This service member, identified as Navy SEAL #3 in court documents, says the severe mistreatment he’s endured made him felt “betrayed” by his commanders and military leadership.
Navy SEAL #3 initially prayed for guidance about submitting a religious accommodation. For him, it was a personal decision about his religious convictions, and he wanted to follow his Catholic faith. With his career potentially on the line for making this decision, he said “this isn’t something that I just take lightly.”
From the very beginning, SEAL #3 says the Navy mishandled religious accommodation requests. Instead of complying with the law and honoring their religious convictions, Navy officials threatened punishment at every turn and accused religious service members of letting the team down. He described the pressure from military leadership as “coercion.”
SEAL #3 said he was treated as a “problem child,” and was completely pulled off of his regular duties, training and traveling. He was relegated to an administrative role behind a desk, leaving him feeling “very disappointed, almost like a stab in the back.”
But one of the worst displays of discrimination came when he sought medical treatment for a traumatic brain injury. The Navy refused to allow him to travel to the medical clinic because of his vaccination status. Here’s how he described it:
“The stress was overwhelming between having to worry about job security, my family, the newborn on the way, and then already with the injuries I had sustained from past deployments. Just TBI [traumatic brain injury] and other mental health issues, it became very overwhelming, and I decided to seek help, to go to a TBI clinic. Well, they at first did not allow me to go. They basically said, nope, you can’t travel because you’re not vaccinated. They talked about mission readiness and health of the force. Yet they were denying medical treatment to someone who’s put in over 10 years and sustained injuries on employments and on duty.”
He eventually found a way to get the treatment, but says he was met with disdain once he arrived at the facility: “I was still harassed while there and basically told that I was… an entitled brat, and that I was going to get formally counseled when I returned for undermining their authority.”
SEAL #3 admits that the whole experience crushed his connection to his unit and the military:
“Now, the community that I joined, they’re all like brothers to me, but since the mandate had come out, I felt a lack of brotherhood, lack of camaraderie, even from Big Navy. I felt betrayal. Disappointment is an understatement of the treatment that they’ve been giving me and the other guys.”
It also eroded his trust in military leadership and made him question if his superiors would have his back in combat situations: “If I can’t trust that they’re going to do that here on the vaccine mandate and respect my religious beliefs, then how do I have faith that they’re going to do that on the battlefield?”
This mistreatment is unacceptable. SEAL #3 and all our service members deserve better. They should not be stripped of the constitutional rights that they fight for each and every day.
This battle for our military heroes is a crucial opportunity to make sure not only SEAL #3, but thousands of service members like him are not punished for their faith.
Just as America’s men and women in uniform never give up on their country, we at First Liberty will never give up on them. They have sacrificed so much for us, and we’ll continue defending them and winning critical legal battles to protect their rights.
As the 5th Circuit deliberates and the judges begin to write their decision, please continue to support our Navy clients—and all service members—through prayer. You are a shining light to them in this very dark and uncertain time, so thank you for letting our service members know that you have their backs in this fight.
Related News: Navy Lieutenant Invited as Special Guest for State of the Union Address
This week, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas invited one of First Liberty’s Navy clients, Lieutenant Levi Beaird, as his guest for this week’s State of the Union address.
Lt. Beaird is a decorated Naval Service Warfare Officer who had to face a separation board and was nearly kicked out of the military as a result of Biden administration’s punitive approach against service members who requested religious accommodations. Thankfully, because First Liberty won the first injunction and class certification that protected our clients and thousands of our Navy personnel, Lt. Beaird was able to save his career from destruction.
Watch Sen. Ted Cruz share more about Lt. Beaird’s story. He explains how the Navy continues to harass this military hero simply because he sought to serve in a manner consistent with his religious beliefs:
I’m fighting for every solider, sailor, airman, Marine, or Coastguardsman like my State of the Union guest Lieutenant Levi Beaird, a Naval Surface Warfare officer.
The Biden administration is punishing American Heroes. pic.twitter.com/cDk8rKB8hB
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) February 7, 2023