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Vaccine Policy Blocked Due to Religious Objections

February 11th, 2022

Western Michigan University students recently won a lawsuit against a vaccine mandate the school had put in place for student athletes.
A federal judge ruled against a Biden Administration vaccine policy for military members after Navy Seals claimed religious exemptions.

A judge for a Texas federal court in January, 2022, ruled against a vaccine policy for military members. The judge’s ruling focuses on how the Navy’s regulations address those who seek an exemption on religious grounds from the vaccine mandate. This case highlights religious rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccine Policy Targeted in Lawsuit

The lawsuit was initiated by Navy Seals who allege that the Navy has “disdain” for religious accommodations for the vaccine in contrast to vaccine exemptions for non-religious beliefs like medical reasons. The Navy seals argued that after expressing their religious objections to the vaccine policy, they were told that they could end up facing adverse consequences and penalties for refusing to receive the vaccine including being labeled as “non-deployable.” 

The lawsuit also claims that the Navy’s treatment of religious objections violates the Constitution’s Free Exercise of Religion clause. The lawsuit also alleges that the Navy has violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which establishes a standard involving when the government can act in a manner that burden’s a person’s religious freedom. 

The Judge’s Ruling

Judge Reed O’Connor granted an order prohibiting the Navy from penalizing over 30 Navy Seals who initiated legal action in a court of law because the Navy Seals are pursuing an exemption on religious grounds from the COVID-19 vaccine policy due to religious beliefs. The order temporarily prohibits the Navy from passing regulations that permit religious objectors to be considered disqualified or non-deployable for Special Operations.

As part of the order, the judge noted that Navy service members in the case are attempting to assert the liberties that they have bravely sacrificed to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic affords the government no license, the judge noted, to interfere with these freedoms. Additionally, the judge noted that no COVID-19 exception exists to the First Amendment. 

Response to the Decision

The navy has not commented on the judge’s decision. The Navy, however, has vigorously recommended the vaccine, and currently, more than 99% of active-duty Navy service members have received the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Navy Seals who initiated this lawsuit are not the only group that has taken issue with the Navy’s vaccine policy. Before this Texas federal court ruling, however, none of these lawsuits have secured preliminary orders that loosened requirements. 

The Navy Seals’ lawsuit also garnered the support of several Republican legislatures who later filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the Navy Seals. 

Following Religious Rights Cases

The basis of religious rights originated in the US Constitution, but there continue to be various challenges each week that test the exact limits and nature of religious rights in this country. The Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on documenting the most noteworthy of these cases. We strive to detail cases in a way that examines both sides to a matter as well as explains even the most complex issues in a way that can be quickly understood by readers.

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