by Debra Heine
Dozens of US Navy SEALS and other Naval Special Warfare (NSW) personnel on Tuesday filed a Federal lawsuit against the Biden Administration and the Department of Defense for their refusal to grant religious exemptions to Joe Biden’s unconstitutional COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The First Liberty Institute, a legal organization dedicated to defending religious liberty for all Americans, is representing 40 active-duty SEALs and three reservists.
The Department of Defense has granted only a “smattering” of vaccine exemptions to date, the New York Times reported, “including to people who were already leaving the military or have medical issues.”
According to the Times, the Pentagon is actually planning to reverse some of those exemptions, “like for people who recently had the coronavirus” and have natural immunity.
In the Marines and the Army, about 93 percent of all active-duty troops have been at least partially vaccinated. Each service branch set its own deadlines and complex disciplinary procedures for those who decline shots, including extensive counseling sessions with clergy and commanders.
The DoD has not granted a religious accommodation to a single plaintiff, nor does not it intend to approve any religious accommodation requests, according to First Liberty.
SEALS who decline the jab face severe punishments such as “court-martial (criminal) prosecution, relief from leadership positions, revocation of special operator status, placement on a non-deployable status, drastic pay cuts, and a loss of travel privileges,” according to the complaint.
A source previously revealed to Fox News that a Navy officer told a SEAL planning to seek a religious exemption that he would have to give up his Special Warfare pin, also known as a “Trident.” If a SEAL loses the privilege of wearing a Trident, he or she is removed from the SEAL community completely and sent back to be a regular sailor, despite in some cases, years of hard earned special operator status. The lawsuit cites other examples of SEALs who have been threatened with that same punishment.
“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. Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” said Mike Berry, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “After all these elite warriors have done to defend our freedoms, the Navy is now threatening their careers, families, and finances. It’s appalling and it has to stop before any more harm is done to our national security.”
The SEALs, who presently serve at various classified and confidential locations, collectively have more than 350 years of military service, and more than 100 combat deployments. When they inquired about seeking religious accommodation for the vaccine, the Navy informed many of the plaintiffs that they could face court-martial or involuntary separation if they don’t receive the vaccine. Each of their religious exemption denials appear to be identical, suggesting the Navy is not taking their requests seriously. The Navy also warned some of the plaintiffs that if they sought a religious exemption, the Navy would confiscate their Special Warfare devices—such as the famous SEAL “Trident”—that they proudly wear on their uniforms.
First Liberty attorneys argue in their complaint that the Department of Defense is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense regulations.
‘The Vaccine Mandate substantially burdens the SEALs’ free exercise of religion, and the Department of Defense has failed to prove it has a compelling government interest, or that there are no less restrictive ways to further its effort to mitigate the Covid-19 virus,” the lawyers said in a statement.
According to the suit, multiple SEALs received a formal administrative warning that states that those individuals “who refuse to receive the COVID-19 vaccine based solely on personal or religious beliefs will be disqualified from [special operator] duty (unless the disqualification is separately waived by BUMED). This will affect deployment and special pays. This provision does not pertain to medical contraindications or allergies to vaccine administration.’”
Berry told Fox News that the vaccine mandate is “appalling,” and harmful to national security.
“After all the sacrifices these elite warriors made to defend our freedoms, the Navy is now threatening their careers, families, and finances. It’s appalling and it has to stop before any more harm is done to our national security,” he said. “Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” Berry concluded.
You can read the complaint here.
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Debra Heine is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Dive Operations” by Official U.S. Navy Page CC BY 2.0.