The National Defense Authorization Act is now in the hands of the Senate, where it is expected to pass and move to the president's desk for signature. The $858 billion NDAA passed the House last week (350-80 [see Roll Call vote]) and included a provision to repeal the Defense Department's shot mandate. To win bipartisan support for the bill, Democrats were forced to yield to Republican demands to scrap the requirement for service members to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
Mat Staver is founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which has filed several lawsuits to protect service members who have refused the shot based on religious objections. He says rescinding the mandate is not enough – and that litigation must continue.
"I'm glad that it looks like we're headed in the right direction to repeal the mandate," Staver tells AFN, "but so much more has to happen.
"[First] we have to get rid of the flawed religious accommodation policy and make the military come in line with federal law, [specifically] the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Staver describes. "[And] number two, we need to right the wrongs that were inflicted upon service members – those who are still in the service and those who were discharged from the service because of this unlawful mandate."
The Liberty Counsel founder has seen no evidence that the DOD plans to reinstate any of the individuals who were booted out. "We'll continue to litigate moving forward to make sure that the rights are restored to these individuals, both in the military and those who were already discharged," he vows.
On Wednesday (Dec. 14), Staver's firm will argue before the Eleventh U.S. Court of Appeals on behalf of a Marine officer and a Navy commander whose careers suffered the consequences of their refusal to submit to the injection.
Meanwhile, a constitutional attorney points that when it comes to the repeal of the vaccine mandate for service members, one branch of the military has been completely left out. Steve Crampton is senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, which has filed several lawsuits aimed at protecting service members from the mandate. He explains that many of their clients are in the Coast Guard and are not covered by the bill.
"Loosely speaking, [the Coast Guard] is part of the military; strictly speaking, it is not under the Department of Defense," he tells AFN. "It is administered under the Department of Homeland Security. So, the NDAA and the repeal address only the DOD. It's a curious twist."
Consequently, the attorney explains, his firm will move forward with their lawsuit on behalf of Coast Guard members. "… We are pressing very hard and we're hopeful that we will see an opinion on our preliminary injunction motion for the entire nationwide class," he concludes, "because the Coast Guard isn't even addressed, at least in the latest language that we saw of this NDAA."