Friday, May 27, 2022

US judge blocks Pentagon from punishing Navy Seals who refused Covid-19 vaccine

The service members had faced a range of military discipline actions for refusing the vaccine.

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A federal judge on Monday barred the US Department of Defense from punishing a group of Navy Seals and other special forces members who refused Covid-19 vaccines on religious grounds.

US District Judge Reed O’Connor, acting in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of 35 special forces service members, issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Navy and Defense Department from enforcing the mandate.

Reed, who was appointed to the federal bench in Texas by president George W Bush, said the Navy had not granted a single religious exemption to the vaccine rule.

“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. The Covid-19 pandemic provides the government no licence to abrogate those freedoms,” the judge wrote in a 26-page decision.

The service members had faced a range of military discipline actions for refusing the vaccine.

First Liberty Institute, a legal organisation dedicated to defending US religious freedoms which represented the plaintiff service members, hailed the ruling as a victory.

“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, the institute’s general counsel, said in a written statement.

Pentagon officials could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters on Monday evening.

The ruling marks the latest salvo in a string of legal fights over Covid-19 vaccine mandates ordered by President Joe Biden that have proven deeply controversial among conservatives.

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