A group of about 35 U.S. Navy personnel, including 26 Navy SEALs, have filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Defense over the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The lawsuit filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas names President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, the U.S. Defense Department, and Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro as defendants.
In addition to the 26 Navy SEALs, plaintiffs also include five U.S. Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen, three U.S. Navy Divers and one U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician.
The complaint argues that the Navy fails to provide an adequate exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for those with sincerely held religious objections.
“Multiple Plaintiffs hold the sincere religious belief that all life is sacred, from conception to natural death, and that abortion is the impermissible taking of an innocent life in the womb,” the legal filing argues.
“As a result of their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding life and abortion, multiple Plaintiffs are unable to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines due to what they believe and understand is a connection between these vaccines and their testing, development, or production using aborted fetal cell lines.”
The complaint quoted a Navy spokesperson who stated last month that while the military branch was processing multiple religious exemption requests, it has yet to approve any.
Multiple plaintiffs received a formal “COVID-19 Vaccination Administrative Counseling/Warning” that stated that those who refuse to get vaccinated based on personal or religious beliefs will be disqualified from special operations duty unless their disqualification is waived. The provision doesn’t “pertain to medical contraindications or allergies to vaccine administration.”
“Plaintiffs also have been informed that any religious accommodation that will be
offered will preclude them from deploying,” the lawsuit reads.
“When at least one Plaintiff told his command that he would be requesting a religious
accommodation, he was ordered to remove his special warfare device pin from his uniform. Other Plaintiffs have been threatened with the same adverse treatment.”
The lawsuit further noted that “multiple Plaintiffs have had their requests for religious accommodations officially denied.”
“Multiple Plaintiffs have not been officially informed that their requests have been
denied but have been advised that they will be denied,” the lawsuit adds.
The Navy personnel are represented by the First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based conservative legal nonprofit specializing in religious liberty litigation. The group argues that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 states that the “[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
“The act broadly defines the ‘exercise of religion’ to include ‘any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief,’” the lawsuit maintains.
First Liberty General Counsel Mike Berry said in a statement that the reported failure of the government to grant any religious exemptions indicated that it is engaging in “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,” Berry contends.
“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.”
In August, the Pentagon announced it would require U.S. military personnel to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September, citing combat readiness as a justification for the mandate.
“Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved, the department is prepared to issue updated guidance, requiring all service members to be vaccinated,” stated Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby.
“These efforts ensure the safety of our service members and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live.”
Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, who serves as surgeon general of the U.S. Navy, released a statement at the end of August supporting the Defense Department’s vaccine mandate.
“The DoD’s mandatory vaccination policy is the proven way to ensure the readiness and the safety of our naval force, DoD civilian work force, and the American people and our allies and partners,” Gillingham said.
“Vaccinating every eligible service member improves readiness and ensures our Sailors and Marines are equipped with the biological body armor needed to protect ourselves from biological threats.”
The Military Times reports that as of last week, 97% of active-duty personnel have received at least a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 87% are fully vaccinated.
There has been debate among Christian and Catholic leaders as to whether churches should support those seeking religious exemptions to vaccine mandates.
In October, Roman Catholic Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy P. Broglio defended those who object to the fact that vaccines use aborted fetal cell lines in their testing or development. He argued that "no one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience."
“The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were tested using an abortion-derived cell line. That type of a link has been for centuries considered remote material cooperation with evil and is never sinful,” Broglio wrote.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed, tested, and is produced, with abortion-derived cell lines. That vaccine is, therefore, more problematic. If it were the only vaccine available, it would be morally permissible,” he added.
In September, Dallas megachurch Pastor Robert Jeffress argued that there is no "credible" religious argument against COVID-19 vaccines. He specifically questioned those who object to the fact that the vaccines used aborted fetal cell lines in their testing or development.
“Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection,” the Southern Baptist pastor told The Associated Press.