On Monday, Federal Judge Steven Merryday granted a temporary restraining order in Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin for a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet who faced immediate discipline after being denied his appeal for a religious accommodation from the COVID shot mandate. The preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for April 28.
The unnamed cadet, according to Liberty Counsel, believes that God has called him to serve in the Air Force – but also holds a sincerely held religious belief that he shouldn't receive any of the COVID shots because of their connections to abortion. Liberty Counsel is representing that cadet.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the law firm, categorizes Merryday's decision as a "good" one because it prevents the Air Force from discharging or disciplining the cadet or taking retaliatory action because he refuses to take the injection. And he tells AFN it's the goal of the Biden administration to purge from the military every person with a religious exemption request.
"We're working to stop that implementation of this purge – but it's across all branches, whether you're in the top of your class as a cadet … or whether you are an experienced member of the services who has 20-25 years' experience," he explains.
That's why Liberty Counsel has filed a memo calling on Judge Merryday to issue a class-wide preliminary injunction to provide relief from the unlawful shot mandates being imposed on service members in every branch of the U.S. military. The Florida-based legal group currently represents more than two dozen plaintiffs from all branches of the military who were denied religious exemptions from the mandate.
"We are continually getting one injunction after another," says the LC founder, a clear reference to a recent one involving a U.S. Marine Corp captain. "But we need to get a class-wide injunction to protect every person in the military [because we] represent about 30 plaintiffs [and] we can't go back to the court 20,000-some times."
"I think it's pure evil what we're seeing. And I think there certainly is a spiritual component – because it makes no sense.
"Why are they pushing these people to get the shot or be discharged? Why when they drop the masking? Why when they say they no longer need to quarantine and isolate from other individuals who are not COVID-positive? Why are they still forcing these honorable men and women out [of the service] when we're on the other side of this Omicron bell curve, if you will?"
"It's deeply spiritual; it's an attempted purge – and we're not going to allow that to happen."
Mat Staver, founder and chairman
The military has no basis for pressuring, abusing, and unlawfully violating the religious rights of the troops, Staver argues. In addition, he says they clearly are violating the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"It's a cookie-cutter template denial system," he accuses. "They're not showing a compelling governmental interest or the least restrictive means to the person under RFRA.
"So [we're asking Judge Merryday to] issue the same relief that some of these individuals have received; thankfully so, to every person who's similarly situated. That's what our goal is [and] that's what we will also be bringing up again before the judge later this week."
According to Liberty Counsel, at least 24,000 religious accommodation requests have been filed thus far. And while that number continues to grow, Staver claims "they're all being denied."
Immediate relief from harsh consequences
Liberty Counsel has provided the following sample of the consequences facing plaintiffs in Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin who are seeking a religious accommodation:
- Plaintiff Reserve Lieutenant Colonel, USMC, has been forced into the Individual Ready Reserve, which made her inactive, unable to drill, unable to earn points towards advancement or benefits, and imposed substantial burdens on her religious beliefs;
- Plaintiffs Captain 2 and Captain 3, USMC, have been removed from Expeditionary War School a mere 75 days from graduation, and been placed on the Officer Disciplinary Notebook, which is a fatal blow to a Marine's career, and Captain 2 has been slated for a Board of Inquiry, which is the last step in the separation process;
- Plaintiff First Lieutenant, USMC, has been relieved of his command, ordered to attend a Transition Readiness Seminar, and issued a Report of Misconduct and Notification of Separation with a recommendation that he be immediately separated from the Marine Corps for failure to accept a COVID-19 shot that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs;
- Plaintiff Chaplain, USAF, has sustained a Letter of Counseling and a Letter of Reprimand for failing to accept a COVID-19 shot in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs, and has been removed him from instructor duty responsibilities and assigned behind-the-scenes duties, which precludes him from engaging in his duties to tend to the sincerely held religious beliefs of Air Force service members (ironically for following his own sincerely held religious beliefs);
- Plaintiff Reserve Lieutenant Colonel 1, USAF, has been issued a Letter of Reprimand for failure to obey an order to vaccinate and sent her to Individual Ready Reserve, denying her a Board of Inquiry, access to the Transition Assistance Program and a referral to a medical specialist at a military medical center;
- Plaintiff Reserve Lieutenant Colonel 2, USAF, has been issued a Letter of Reprimand, issued a negative referral for Officer Performance Report, and has been posted to the Unfavorable Information File, which begins the process of separating him from the Active Guard Reserve and involuntarily transferring him to the Individual Ready Reserve;
- Plaintiff Master Sergeant Sere Specialist, USAF, has been removed from his leadership position, issued two separate Letters of Reprimand, effectively beginning his separation process, all while requiring him to continue as “mission essential personnel” for the execution and carrying on of critical mission requirements;
- Putative Class Member Lance Corporal Administrative Specialist, USMC, was separated from military service for her failure to receive a COVID-19 shot that violates her sincerely held religious beliefs;
- Putative Class Member Captain 4, USMC, was removed from command, issued an administrative counseling order, and was given a written promotion hold, effectively ending his career;
- Putative Class Member Staff Sergeant, USMC, was served with Article 90 violation papers and administrative separation papers for failure to receive a COVID-19 injection that violates her sincerely held religious beliefs;
- Putative Class Member Major 1, USAF, has been stripped of all duties and titles, removed from flight status and his $1,000 per month flight pay, and notified that he is going to be placed on the Individual Ready Reserve;
- Putative Class Member Tech Sergeant, USAF, has been given three separate orders to vaccinate or separate, despite his sincerely held religious beliefs, and expects that, despite 18.5 years of service, he will be involuntarily separated from the military at any moment;
- Putative Class Member Air Force Reserve Lieutenant Colonel 2 was given a Notification of Involuntary Reassignment - Non-participating Individual Ready Reserve from his commander recommending him for an involuntary reassignment to the Individual Ready Reserve and faces impending separation;
- Putative Class Member ROTC Midshipman, USN, has received an order from the Navy disenrolling him from college and placing him on leave of absence pending disenrollment; and
- Putative Class Member Brigadier General (SELECT), USAF, Director of Cyberspace Operations and Warfighter Communications was forced to retire at a lower rank (after 26 years of service) rather than violate her sincerely held religious beliefs.
4/28/2022 - Sidebar added.