Updated: Jan 6, 2022
A federal judge on Monday agreed with 35 Sailors that they can't be forcibly vaccinated against COVID-19.
Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction that said the Navy can’t enforce its order requiring vaccination and can’t take “any adverse action” against any of the Sailors, including two dozen SEALS, who brought the suit. A copy of the order was published by Fox News.
The temporary decision is not the last word on efforts by the Pentagon to require vaccination. For now, the preliminary injunction applies only to the 35 Sailors who are suing President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. DOD spokesman John Kirby said officials are “aware... of the injunction and we're reviewing it and in discussions with the Department of Justice as to what options might be available to us going forward."
Still, the decision is a significant blow against the vaccinate mandate that has the potential to unravel the DOD policy. It could prove to be particularly important for service members who were seeking a religious exemption.
The lawsuit alleged that the Navy was not giving serious consideration to requests for religious exemptions to the mandate. Several service members argued that the vaccine was developed with the use of fetal cells, and that this makes it incompatible with their religion.
Sailors were allowed to seek a religious exemption, but the Navy has acknowledged that of the 2,877 requests it received, none were approved. That prompted O’Connor, the U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Texas, to call the exemption process “theater.”
O’Connor ruled that DOD has no legal basis for infringing upon the freedoms of those who serve by requiring vaccination.
“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”
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