Dozens of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Special Warfare Command service members are going after the Biden administration and Defense Department for their refusal to grant religious exemptions to the coronavirus vaccine mandate. First Liberty filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the service members on Tuesday.
The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, cites the U.S. Constitution, Navy and DOD regulations, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which should protect the service members’ religious liberty and guard them against “unlawful” and “arbitrary and capricious” actions.
It further details how the plaintiffs were treated upon seeking religious exemptions. Several were told that any religious accommodation would prevent them from being deployed. Others received a formal “COVID-19 Vaccination Administrative Counseling/Warning,” which said that special operations personnel who rejected the vaccine on religious grounds would be disqualified from special ops duty (unless the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery waived it separately), which would also affect their deployment and would mean losing their “special warfare” pay.
According to the complaint, when one of the SEALs told his command he would be trying to acquire a religious accommodation, “he was ordered to remove his special warfare device pin from his uniform,” a move that would effectively end his esteemed career.
Many of the plaintiffs have already received official denials of their requests, while others have been warned they won’t be accepted. And according to the complaint, none of the plaintiffs are aware of any “similarly situated” members of the military who have received exemptions.
“The fact that the government has not granted a single religious exemption from the vaccine mandate shows that the Biden administration does not care about religious freedom. Instead, this appears to be an attempted ideological purge of our military,” First Liberty General Counsel Mike Berry, whose clients have more than 350 collective years of military service and more than 100 combat deployments, told The Federalist. “These elite warriors should be fighting for our country. Instead, they’re fighting for their careers and their freedom.”
This lawsuit follows reporting last month of SEALs facing harassment and intimidation over seeking religious accommodations to the vaccine. One October directive from the Navy’s COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority warned that if SEALs refused the vaccine, the Navy may seek to recover from each service member the amount of money that had been spent on their training, which according to Tuesday’s lawsuit could be more than $1 million per SEAL.
Earlier last month, the Navy banned all travel, both official and non-official, for unvaccinated service members and their entire families.
With many religious accommodation requests still outstanding, the question remains whether those who are denied yet still refuse to get the jab will be dishonorably discharged.
Back in September, the Biden White House said it “strongly opposes” a 2022 defense spending bill provision that would prevent the Defense Department from dishonorably discharging service members who won’t get the coronavirus shot.
“To enable a uniformed force to fight with discipline, commanders must have the ability to give orders and take appropriate disciplinary measures,” the White House said in a statement.
In a recent interview on Fox News, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., called the possibility of dishonorable discharge “the biggest” threat to service members who want to continue serving their country.