Editor’s note: This article was written by Jorge Gomez and posted at FirstLiberty.org. This case has proven to be of interest to Law Officer readers, so we share the update below with their permission.
This week, First Liberty secured a positive and encouraging victory that could greatly impact the religious freedom of all military service members in the future.
We’re representing a group of 35 U.S. Navy SEALs and Naval Special Warfare personnel who are challenging the Department of Defense (DoD) vaccine mandate. Our team filed a federal lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction against the Biden Administration and the DoD for their refusal to grant religious accommodations to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
On Monday, in a strongly worded order, a federal district court stopped the Department of Defense from punishing our clients while the case moves forward.
In his order, Judge Reed O’Connor said:
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”
This is an important preliminary victory and a crucial step in the right direction. This means the U.S. Navy cannot take any adverse action against our clients and must respect their religious beliefs as the case continues to be reviewed by the courts.
Watch the video below. First Liberty General Counsel Mike Berry explains in more detail the significance of the recent opinion and what it means moving forward:
Having this win in hand is very important, as the battle to fully vindicate the rights of our Navy SEALs is far from over. We expect the Biden administration to appeal this decision.
This means there’s still much work ahead to ensure our clients are never forced to choose between their religious faith or serving their country.
But this case is about much more than just fully vindicating our clients. Indeed, this legal battle could ultimately set a precedent that protects religious liberty for all military service members.
As U.S. Army Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin (Ret.) recently told First Liberty in an exclusive interview:
“Every person in uniform has that right, to request and be granted a religious exemption…This is not just about these 35 SEALs today, it’s about the future of our military…If you are able to bully them into capitulating, then there’s no hope for the rest.”
Service members do not give up their religious liberty when they join the military. Both federal and military law protect their right to seek a religious accommodation from any requirement—including vaccines—that burdens their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Just as America’s Navy SEALs never give up on their country when serving, we at First Liberty will never give up on our service members.
Over the coming weeks, and possibly months, First Liberty will need your ongoing support to defend our Navy SEALs through an arduous legal process. Winning this case will require that patriots like you—who cherish and love our military heroes—come together to help deliver a final victory that fully vindicates them.
Please consider making a timely donation to First Liberty today. Thanks to your generous support, our legal team continues not only fighting—but winning—for our military heroes who make incredible sacrifices to protect our freedoms.