Congress passes bill ordering Biden admin. to end COVID-19 vaccine mandate for troops

Demonstrators participate in a Defeat the Mandates march against vaccine mandates in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 2022.
Demonstrators participate in a Defeat the Mandates march against vaccine mandates in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 2022. | Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that would order the U.S. Department of Defense to end its requirement that members of the Armed Forces take the coronavirus vaccine about three years after the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted 83-11 to approve the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023. The bill is named after retiring U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and funds national defense for the fiscal year.

The Senate's passage of the legislation comes a week after the U.S. House of Representatives voted 350-80 to advance the bill. It now heads to President Joe Biden's desk for final approval.

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The wide-ranging bill, which includes over 4,000 pages of text related to the military, homeland defense, natural resources and energy, contains an amendment ordering Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to repeal the military's vaccine mandate within 30 days. 

Austin authored a memorandum in August 2021, establishing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members. The memo cited the "mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019" as "necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people."

The memo sparked litigation from over two dozen Navy SEALs who sought a religious exemption from the mandate because they saw taking the vaccine as a direct contradiction to their sincerely held religious beliefs.

A federal judge sided with the Navy SEALs earlier this year. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Biden administration's motion to invalidate the lower court decision.

Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, later expanded the scope of his injunction to include thousands of military personnel seeking religious exemptions. Lawyers with First Liberty Institute, the legal team representing the Navy SEALs seeking religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate, celebrated the bill's passage. 

"We're pleased that Congress finally acted to protect our brave warriors before more damage is done to them and our national security," First Liberty Institute President and Chief Counsel Kelly Shackelford said in a statement.

"The President and the Secretary of Defense owe our troops an apology for the religious hostility they've endured. If our nation and our military are to remain the greatest on earth, service members of faith must be treated with dignity, tolerance, and respect, not forced to choose between their faith and serving the country."

Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, said the impending appeal "does not resolve the ongoing religious discrimination in the military."

"Both the President and the Pentagon are on record as opposing this bill, so no doubt they will continue to attempt to punish the troops who have religious objections to the vaccine," Berry said. 

The James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act bills itself as "An Act to provide for improvements to the rivers and harbors of the United States, to provide for the conservation and development of water and related resources, and for other purposes." 

The bill received bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, with only 11 senators voting against it: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Rand Paul, R-Ky., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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