Navy SEALs ask Supreme Court to end vaccine exemption punishment

Attorneys for 35 Navy SEALs and other special warfare personnel asked the Supreme Court on Monday to reject a Biden administration emergency motion seeking a stay of a preliminary injunction protecting the warriors from punishment for objecting to the Defense Department’s vaccine mandate on religious grounds.

The move comes one week after the administration asked the high court to lift an injunction keeping the Navy from considering vaccination status when deploying service members.

“[T]he Navy has not granted a single request for religious accommodation for any servicemember, though he has granted hundreds of non-religious exemptions. While judges should not presume to run the military, neither may courts turn a blind eye to violations of the Constitution or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),” the attorneys wrote in a court filing. “Allowing blind deference to military preferences, as the Navy urges, would rewrite RFRA. Only Congress may do that.”

Only a handful of service members across the military’s branches have received religious exemptions to vaccinate mandates, despite various laws and regulations requiring religious accommodation, advocates say.

The matter is before associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who had set Monday as the deadline for a response from the military personnel’s attorneys. Justice Alito can either decide the matter on his own or refer it to the full court.

In January, Judge Reed O’Connor of the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas blocked the Navy from taking action against the SEALs and other special operations personnel.

“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution,” Judge O’Connor wrote at the time.

Neither the Defense Department nor the Navy responded immediately to a request for comment.

Mike Berry is attorney for First Liberty Institute, which is representing the service members.

“Our clients are willing to make tremendous sacrifices to protect their fellow warriors and our freedoms,” Mr. Berry said in a statement. “Our hope is that the Supreme Court will reject this punitive action by the Biden administration and respect the religious liberty of our clients. No member of the military should be forced to sacrifice the very rights they fight to protect to be able to serve.”

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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