A federal judge blocked the Biden administration Monday from enforcing a COVID-19 mandate on 35 Navy service members, saying the government cannot infringe on the freedoms that they sacrifice to protect.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction that stops the U.S. Department of Defense from punishing the 35 service members, all of whom have religious objections to the vaccine mandate, according to a press release from First Liberty Institute, which is representing them in their lawsuit.
“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.”
The military members sued the department after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, an appointee of President Joe Biden, issued a mandate requiring all members to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Though Austin said religious exemptions would be allowed, none have been approved yet, the Associated Press reports.
In December, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Navy is considering each exemption request individually, according to the report.
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“Each exemption asked for on religious grounds is evaluated by a chaplain, by a chain of command, by medical experts and is given quite a lot of thought, and they’re all decided case by case individually,” Kirby said.
However, the service members’ lawyers said many of them were threatened with court-martial or involuntary separation when they sought religious exemptions. They also noticed that many of their exemption denials were identical, which their lawyers said suggests the Navy did not take them seriously.
The service members’ case is not over, but the judge’s order gives them relief for now.
According to their lawsuit, several object to the vaccines because of their “opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in development of the vaccine.”
In his ruling Monday, O’Connor said the soldiers have a right to practice their religious beliefs without interference.
“Plaintiffs’ beliefs about the vaccine are undisputedly sincere, and it is not the role of this court to determine their truthfulness or accuracy,” he wrote.
Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute, celebrated the ruling as a victory for the brave military service men and women who defend the country.
“Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” Berry said. “Punishing SEALs for simply asking for a religious accommodation is purely vindictive and punitive. We’re pleased that the court has acted to protect our brave warriors before more damage is done to our national security.”
The AP reports approximately 90 percent of the military members are vaccinated for COVID-19.
Opinions about the new COVID-19 vaccines vary widely even among many religious people and pro-life advocates. Some object to the vaccine because it is new and the long-term effects and risks are unknown, and others cannot in good conscience take a vaccine that has been developed and/or tested with cell lines created from aborted babies. Others support the vaccine because it can save lives.
About a year ago, the Vatican declared that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to take vaccines even if they use cell lines create from aborted babies because of the vaccines’ life-saving impact.
Other Catholic and pro-life leaders, however, argue that any connection between the vaccines and the killing of unborn babies in abortions is immoral.
None of the vaccines contain cells from aborted babies, but they all have links to abortion, some more-so than others.
The companies Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca used cell lines created from babies who were aborted decades ago in the development and testing of their vaccines. The connections between abortion and the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are much more limited, with cell lines created from aborted babies used only in testing the products.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute has a list of the vaccines with information about whether cell lines created from aborted babies were used in testing and/or production. Find it here.