Home Christian News Navy Blocked From Acting Against 35 COVID Vaccine Refusers

Navy Blocked From Acting Against 35 COVID Vaccine Refusers

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FILE - Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Nov. 17, 2021, in Washington. A federal judge in Texas has granted a preliminary injunction stopping the Navy from acting against 35 sailors for refusing on religious grounds to comply with an order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The injunction is a new challenge to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's decision to make vaccinations mandatory for all members of the military. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge in Texas has granted a preliminary injunction stopping the Navy from acting against 35 sailors for refusing on religious grounds to comply with an order to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The injunction is a new challenge to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s decision to make vaccinations mandatory for all members of the military. The vaccination requirement allows for exemptions on religious and other grounds, but none of the thousands of requests for religious waivers so far have been granted.

There was no indication that the order would affect service members beyond the 35 sailors who sued Austin and the Navy. The Pentagon had no immediate response to a request for comment.

Well over 90% of the military has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including at least 98.5% of active and reserve members of the Navy. Austin asserts that vaccines are a valid and necessary medical requirement to protect service members and their families and ensure the combat readiness of the force.

In his decision Monday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that the Navy’s process for considering a sailor’s request for a religious exemption is flawed and amounts to “theater.”

O’Connor, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote that the group of 35 sailors who sued the government in November and sought a preliminary injunction against the Navy have a right on religious and First Amendment grounds to refuse the vaccination order.

“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor wrote. “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.”

The O’Connor injunction was first reported by The Washington Post.

Without commenting on the case in Texas, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby last month defended the validity of the military service’s processes for considering religious exemptions.

“Each exemption asked for on religious grounds is evaluated by a chaplain, by a chain of command, by medical experts and is given quite a lot of thought, and they’re all decided case by case individually,” he said Dec. 21.

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robertburns@outreach.com'
Robert Burns is a journalist with the Associated Press.