A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking the Department of Defense from taking action against 35 Navy service members who refused a Covid vaccine because of religious objections.
Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas issued the injunction after service members from the Navy SEALS and Naval Special Warfare Command sued the Biden administration over the military vaccine mandate.
Over 99 percent of active-duty Navy personnel are vaccinated for coronavirus, according to court documents in the case. The service members argued that they refused to take a Covid vaccine “for a variety of reasons based upon their Christian faith.”
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor wrote in his 26-page injunction. “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.”
O’Connor added that while he “does not make light of COVID-19′s impact on the military,” the “loss of religious liberties outweighs any forthcoming harm to the Navy.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials were reviewing the injunction, in a comment to the Washington Post.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who recently tested positive for Covid, wrote to military personnel in August informing them that he would seek to implement a vaccine mandate for the armed forces once the Food and Drug Administration gave its full approval to a coronavirus vaccine.
Judge O’Connor’s decision came days before the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments on separate vaccine mandates by the Biden administration, covering employers with 100 or more workers and health care workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-affiliated facilities.