Late Monday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied a request by the Navy to overturn a preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in January, stopping the Department of Defense from punishing military service members who have religious objections to the vaccine mandate.
First Liberty Institute and Hacker Stevens LLP filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of dozens of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel against the Biden administration and the Department of Defense for their refusal to grant religious accommodations to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
In yesterday's ruling, the Fifth Circuit stated:
"The Navy has not accommodated any religious request to abstain from any vaccination in seven years, and to date it has denied all religiously based claims for exemption from COVID-19 …. But evidence … suggests that the Navy has effectively stacked the deck against even those exemptions supported by Plaintiffs' immediate commanding officers and military chaplains."
In an interview with AFN, Mike Berry of First Liberty Institute summarizes what the ruling means.
"The Fifth Circuit, in a very powerful opinion, said essentially that what the Navy is doing to our clients is wrong," he explains. "It violates [both] the Constitution and federal law. So, the Navy is very unlikely to succeed on the merits of this case which, of course, we agree with that – and we're glad that the Fifth Circuit agrees too."
And Berry says about a half dozen similar cases are challenging the DoD vaccine mandate.
"I think people are fed up with what the [Biden] administration and what the Department of Defense are doing, and we're starting to see more and more victories," the attorney shares.
"One of the arguments that we've been making from Day 1 is the Navy continues to approve medical and administrative exemptions to the vaccine, but they refuse to approve any religious exemptions to the vaccines. That's discrimination; that's unlawful."
According to First Liberty, each of their clients' religious accommodation denials appear to be identical – suggesting, says the legal group, that the Navy "is not taking their requests seriously."
First Liberty Institute is prepared to defend this case before the Supreme Court if the government appeals the Fifth Circuit's ruling.