On January 10, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin officially rescinded the COVID-19 mandate for all members of the U.S. military – active, guard, and reserve. But attorneys with First Liberty Institute and Hacker Stephens LLP contend the Biden administration and the Pentagon have pursued "a punitive and vindictive approach" toward Navy personnel who requested a legal, religious accommodation to the mandate. The legal groups have submitted documents to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals describing those actions by the U.S. Navy.
Mike Berry, director of military affairs at First Liberty Institute, spoke with AFN.
"The Pentagon continues to pursue its religious hostility against service members," he shares. "It continues to deny service members who have a religious objection to the vaccine from the opportunities that they need in order to advance in their careers – things like deployment, attending training. [For example,] if they're a pilot they're not allowing them to get the flying hours that they need."
Berry says the legal teams plan to present their concerns in oral arguments before the Fifth Circuit on Monday (February 6). "We're going to present arguments to the court that the Department of Defense continues to punish and demonstrate religious hostility against service members despite the fact that the vaccine mandate has been repealed," he explains.
Because the U.S. Supreme Court only hears about 80 cases a year, rulings by appeals courts are often the last word in many cases. That's why, according to First Liberty, a favorable ruling for its Navy clients could be a major victory for countless religious service members.
"I would say I'm cautiously optimistic that the court's going to rule in our favor," Berry adds.
Collectively, First Liberty's clients have more than 350 years of military service and more than 100 combat deployment.