Twenty-two states took legal action on Monday in support of several U.S. Navy SEALs seeking religious exemptions from President Joe Biden’s Covid jab mandate for military personnel.
Filed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the amicus brief encourages the court not to afford deference to the federal government over its continued denial of religious exemptions for military service members such as the Navy SEALs, with the near-two dozen states citing the Biden administration’s repeated violations of federal law throughout the Covid pandemic.
“The Administration’s near total denial rate for religious exemptions suggests—just standing on its own—that the Administration has cast aside [The Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s] demands to pursue a political decision to mandate widespread vaccination,” the brief reads. “The Administration appears to be using another ‘work-around’—overstepping statutory limits to achieve a higher vaccination rate, as it did with the eviction moratorium and with its vaccine mandates.”
While the states proclaim that there are “areas of particularly sensitive government interests” and that courts “should respect the professional judgments of experienced officials,” they note that “even when government interests are compelling, religious exercise demands respect too.”
“The amici States have a powerful interest in holding true the balance between pursuing important state interests and protecting sincerely held religious beliefs. Respect for policymakers’ judgments should not be permitted to mask abuse of religious freedom,” they said.
In summarizing their case, the states go on to emphasize the importance of federalism and how “the [Biden] Administration has fallen short in respecting the limitations on its authority” over the course of the pandemic.
“The Administration has acted despite legal limitations and then asked for deference to its judgments,” the brief reads. “But it is ‘not enough’ to ‘defer to [an official’s] determination’ about when an individual’s religious liberties must give way, particularly where history provides good reason to question that determination.”
“This Court should not afford deference to the federal government,” it concluded.
When announcing the brief’s filing, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch championed the decision to support the SEALs, while also knocking the Biden administration for its continued purging of unvaccinated U.S. military personnel.
“These brave men and women risk their lives to defend our freedom and they should not be required to check their own freedom at the door because they serve in our military – especially where the Administration has demonstrated that its demand here is due to blind adherence to a political agenda,” she said in a statement.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares echoed similar sentiments, saying the Biden administration “has continually disrespected boundaries throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Navy SEALs are some of our best and brightest, willing to sacrifice their lives to protect our freedoms. Those who have filed religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine deserve to be heard and taken seriously,” he said.
Other state attorneys general that signed onto the amicus brief include those representing Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Originally filed in November by the First Liberty Institute on behalf of 35 active-duty Navy SEALs and three reservists, the case before the Fifth Circuit has “since been amended to extend to a class action lawsuit encompassing all Navy service members seeking religious accommodation.”
As reported by Fox News, with the case “continuing to be litigated in lower courts around the country,” unvaccinated SEALs and other sailors “who have not yet been terminated by the U.S. government are stuck in limbo” and being forced into “less-than-desirable alternative housing by the military or barred from traveling outside their base.”
Several of those who have been forcibly segregated from their fellow servicemembers as a result of their decision to refuse the jab have since been subject to horrid living conditions, with one sailor who was moved to the berthing barge of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier describing the environment as “deplorable.”
“There is mold everywhere and the barge’s toilets back up and leak,” the sailor said. “The water leaks out of the base of the toilet and collects near my rack and out into the hall. On bad days, it goes into the berthings on the other side. The leaks seem to be sewage—it smells like sewage and looks like it too.”
“Needless to say, I do not feel comfortable or safe in this environment and I have contacted mental health services multiple times,” the sailor added.
To date, only “47 religious accommodation requests have been approved [by the Navy], and 4,251 requests remain pending,” according to the legal brief filed by the 22 states.