Casey Harper, The Center Square
A coalition of Navy SEALs engaged in legal action over vaccine mandates won another victory, and could be taken all the way up to the Supreme Court.
This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Fifth Circuit denied a Navy request for an emergency stay of injunction which would have prevented the Navy from taking any action against the SEALS. According to the SEALS, religious exemptions had been requested by Navy but they were rejected. They also claim that their request was not properly considered.
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“The Navy has been extraordinarily successful in vaccinating service members, as at least 99.4% of whom are vaccinated,” said the appellate ruling. “But that general interest is nevertheless insufficient under [Religious Freedom Restoration Act]. The Navy must instead ‘scrutinize … the asserted harm of granting specific exemptions to particular religious claimants.’ The question, then, is not whether [the Navy has]There is a strong interest in the enforcement of its laws [vaccination]Policy generally. But whether the policy has an interest in denial of an exception [each Plaintiff].”
The SEALS group’s representative, First Liberty Institute, welcomed this decision.
“Events around the world remind us daily that there are those who seek to harm America. Our military should be welcoming service members, not forcing them out because of their religious beliefs,” said Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “The purge of religious servicemembers is not just devastating to morale, but it harms America’s national security. It’s time for our military to honor its constitutional obligations and grant religious accommodations for service members with sincere religious objections to the vaccine. We’re grateful the Fifth Circuit denied the Navy’s motion.”
That ruling upheld an injunction issued by U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Reed O’Connor in January.
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor’s ruling reads. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. The First Amendment does not include the COVID-19 exception. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”
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This decision is made amid a nationwide weakening in COVID-19 mandates. In recent weeks, several Democratic-led states have reversed their mask requirements. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last week announced that most Americans won’t need to wear masks inside.
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“We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing …” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press briefing.
At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court in January overturned President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate on private companies but upheld the mandate for certain health-care workers.
“The question before us is not how to respond to the pandemic, but who holds the power to do so. The answer is clear: Under the law as it stands today, that power rests with the States and Congress, not OSHA,” justices wrote in the majority opinion.
The issue of the SEALs may be reexamined by the Supreme Court. O’Connor’s January ruling case suggests the Navy went too far.
“No matter how remote the possibility, Plaintiffs could be compensated for their losses,” the ruling reads. “They could be reinstated with backpay, retroactively promoted, or reimbursed for lost benefits like medical insurance and the GI Bill. But because these injuries are inextricably intertwined with Plaintiffs’ loss of constitutional rights, this Court must conclude that Plaintiffs have suffered irreparable harm. Plaintiffs suffered more severe injuries from the First Amendment and RFRA infringements. . .”
This article was Syndicated by permission of The Center Square.