Home Patrol combatant Judge Blocks Navy Vaccine Rule: “No First Amendment COVID-19 Exception”

Judge Blocks Navy Vaccine Rule: “No First Amendment COVID-19 Exception”

Enlarge / A Navy nurse prepares a syringe.

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The United States Navy Seals who opposed the COVID vaccination on religious grounds yesterday won a preliminary injunction that bars the Navy from carrying out its vaccination mandate.

“Thirty-five members of the Navy’s Special Warfare Service Alle the Army’s Mandatory Vaccination Policy Violates Their Religious Freedoms under the First Amendment and Restoration of Religious Freedom Act,” the judge wrote Reed O’Connor in the US District Court decision for the North District of Texas. “The Navy provides a religious accommodation process, but by all accounts it is drama. The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory. It just approves every refusal. . “

O’Connor, who was appointed by President Bush in 2007, believed members of the Navy were likely to win the case on the merits. He granted the injunction prohibiting the Navy from carrying out its mandate against the plaintiffs and “from taking adverse action against the plaintiffs on the basis of the plaintiffs’ requests for religious accommodation.”

“No COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment”

“Members of the Navy in this instance seek to defend the very freedoms for which they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic does not give the government any license to abrogate these freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution. “

The 35 complainants include 26 Navy SEALs, five special combatant crew members, three Navy divers and an explosive ordnance disposal technician. They sued President Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the Department of Defense and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. O’Connor dismissed Biden from the lawsuit because the court has no declaratory or injunctive power against the president.

The Department of Defense and Navy can appeal the preliminary injunction decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In a December 2021 brief opposing the preliminary injunction, the Justice Department said the motion “requests[s] this Court to interfere in the management of the military by forcing the Navy to consider applicants medically qualified for continuous service in a special warfare unit, eligible for combat missions and deployable worldwide. The Complainants do not cite any case which has never granted such extraordinary redress in the military context, and indeed they do not provide any authority supporting the possibility of review of military decisions. “

“[T]he Navy has a vital interest in maximizing the effectiveness of special naval warfare operations against enemies of the United States and in minimizing the risk of error in these critical operations, ”the United States also argued. ensuring their maximum capacity “to react easily and quickly to constantly changing circumstances” is essential. The Navy cannot accept any operational conditions of special naval warfare that pose a risk of failure to its combat success against the enemies of the United States. “

“Divine instruction not to receive the vaccine”

While 99.4% of active-duty members of the Navy were fully vaccinated by early November, complainants are among the remaining 0.6% and belong to the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant branches of Christianity. The religious beliefs of the complainants include “(1) opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in vaccine development; (2) the belief that the modification of one’s body is a forehead [sic] to the Creator; (3) direct divine instruction not to receive the vaccine; and (4) opposition to injecting trace amounts of animal cells into his body, ”O’Connor wrote.

The Navy has so far denied at least 29 of 35 exemption requests, has never granted a religious exemption request for the COVID-19 vaccine, and has not granted any religious exemption for any vaccine in the seven past years, wrote O’Connor. “Several complainants have been directly informed through their chains of command that” senior management at Naval Special Warfare have no patience or tolerance for service members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccination for religious reasons and want them to quit the SEAL community, ”the ruling said.

Judge: Navy process bowed against exemptions

O’Connor criticized the Navy’s 50-step process for assessing religious exemption requests, writing that “the first fifteen steps require an administrator to update a disapproval template prepared with the applicant’s name and rank. . In essence, the plaintiffs’ claims are denied the moment they begin. “

After that, a letter of provisional disapproval is “sent to seven offices for consideration,” the religious exemption requests of several members of the service are packaged together, and the administrator “prepares an internal memo to Vice Admiral John Nowell, him asking to “sign … letters disapproving requests for immunization waivers based on sincere religious beliefs. ‘” O’Connor continued:

Then, at step thirty-five of the process, the administrator is invited, for the first time, to read the request for religious accommodation. At this point, the disapproval letter has already been written, the religious accommodation request and related documents have already been reviewed by several offices, the disapproval has already been packed with similar requests, and an internal memo has already been drafted requesting that Vice-Admiral Nowell disapprove of the request for religious accommodation. The administrator is then responsible for reading the request and recording any relevant information in a spreadsheet. At no point in the process is the administrator given the opportunity to recommend anything other than disapproval. The documents are then sent to Vice Admiral Nowell. The whole process belies the manual’s claim that “[e]each request is assessed on a case-by-case basis. “

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