Michael Berry is Vice President of External Affairs, Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. He joined First Liberty in 2013 after serving for seven years on active duty as an attorney with the U.S. Marine Corps. Among Mr. Berry’s numerous positions within the Marine Corps, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, and from 2009-2012, Mr. Berry served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the United States Naval Academy. Mr. Berry continues to proudly serve our nation as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve.
As Vice President of External Affairs, Mr. Berry is responsible for leading First Liberty’s efforts that build and execute strategic initiatives with external entities. As a recognized subject-matter expert on religious liberty, Mr. Berry has testified before Congress and he is routinely invited to speak across the nation about religious freedom. Mr. Berry has also been featured hundreds of times in various national media outlets.
Mr. Berry earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, and he earned his law degree from The Ohio State University.
In the early days of the litigation against the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, courts were understandably hesitant to second-guess military judgments about mission accomplishment and readiness. But recent developments indicating that not all military commanders agree with punishing and discharging service members with sincere religious objections to the vaccine mandate might stretch the limits of judicial deference to military judgments.
What a difference a day makes. Within twenty-four hours, the United States Supreme Court demonstrated the lengths to which it will go to protect a death row inmate’s religious freedom while declining to protect religious freedom for 35 members of the Naval Special Warfare community.
Late last week, the United States Supreme Court slightly narrowed an injunction protecting 35 Navy SEALs from the Department of Defense’s unlawful Covid-19 vaccine mandate. The SEALs, like thousands of their fellow sailors, each sought and were denied religious accommodations from the mandate. Without any evidence or consideration of the numerous exceptions to the government’s mandate, let alone the ever-changing nature of COVID, its variants, or natural immunity, the Navy flatly rejects all religious accommodations for active members.
The purge has begun. Thus far, three branches of the military — the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps — have discharged more than 650 members due to their objection to the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate. The Army recently announced it will soon join those branches. Kicking out hundreds, possibly thousands, of service members because of their beliefs is not only devastating to troop morale, but also harms our national security interests.
The Department of Defense’s recent announcement that all service members must now receive the COVID-19 vaccine, or else, sends the wrong message to America’s military. My firm, First Liberty Institute, has recently been inundated with requests for legal help from service members about the legality of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
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