A federal judge recently issued a temporary injunction against President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate to Navy SEALs on religious freedom grounds.
The lawsuit sought to exempt religiously from the Department of Defense vaccine mandate by the Biden administration. This was because thousands of U.S. military personnel could be discharged for not complying with the directive. Judge Reed O’Connor of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that the coronavirus outbreak “provides no license for the government to abrogate the First Amendment rights of America’s military personnel.”
The judge acknowledged that military members have a path to a religious exemption for vaccinations. However, he called this “theater” and said that religious exemptions are not given the same weight as secular exemptions such as possible allergic reactions.
Similar secular activities (e.g. medical exemptions) are treated more favorably under the mandate than religious activity. First, the Navy has only granted secular exemptions. It has never granted religious exemptions from the vaccine. Even if the Navy granted a religious exemption, it would still be treated less favorably than its secular counterparts. Medically disqualified are those who have religious exemptions. Medical exemptions do not apply to those who are eligible.
The judge described the path to religious exemption as a “fifty-step process to adjudicate requests for religious accommodation.” He claimed that religious accommodation requests are denied “before they start.”
An administrator must update a disapproval template prepared with the name and rank of each requester. The Plaintiffs’ requests are rejected from the moment they start. The prepared letter is sent to seven offices for review. After the disapproval letters are reviewed by the offices, the administrator wraps the letter in a package that includes other requests for religious accommodation.
Recognizing the bias against religious freedoms the judge ruled that the Biden administration did not have a compelling interest to force service members to disregard their “sincerely held religious beliefs” as required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The judge stated that the Navy could not demonstrate a compelling interest in vaccinating the Plaintiffs without an individual assessment. “Even though the Defendants may have a strong compelling interest in mass vaccination of its force, they have accomplished this goal without the involvement of the thirty-five Plaintiffs.”
He said that the Navy’s herd immunity rate is at an all-time high, with a 99.4% vaccine rate. COVID-19 treatments have been shown to be more effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths. While the case against Biden was dismissed, an injunction was issued against his administration’s policies.