(TheRedWire.com) – In August 2021, President Joe Biden announced wide-sweeping COVID-19 mandates. The most widely known one affected employees of companies with more than 100 workers. Biden also initiated mandates for healthcare workers, government contractors, and federal employees. So far, the courts have stymied all the requirements except the healthcare worker vaccine mandate. Another vaccine mandate, currently receiving less attention, involves the US military.
Normally, US service members cannot sue the government as a condition of their military service. However, that rule doesn’t always apply. When the military violates service members’ Constitutional rights, the courts will sometimes take a case. On January 3, a US district court judge slapped a preliminary injunction on the US Navy vaccine mandate implementation after 35 Navy service members sued the government. They alleged the Navy denied them a religious exemption from the mandate.
Judge Expands COVID Vaccine Injunction
On Monday, March 28, US District Judge Reed O’Connor expanded his preliminary injunction to approximately 4,000 Navy service members to whom the Navy denied a religious exemption request. In a 26-page ruling, Judge O’Connor explained his reason for expanding his previous injunction preventing the Navy from either forcing a vaccine on a religious service member or discharging them from their service.
The judge said the Navy harmed all those to whom it denied a COVID vaccine mandate exemption on religious grounds. He said all the Navy denied service members who requested a religious accommodation without considering the merits of their requests. He said that while the circumstances of each situation may be different, the threat of losing their career was the same.
So, what does the ruling mean?
The ruling protects those who asked for religious accommodation from the vaccine mandate. It prevents the Navy from separating them from service or punishment of any kind for refusing to receive a COVID vaccine.
The Navy Complies With the Order
After Judge O’Connor issued his ruling, the Navy stopped separation proceedings regarding the vaccine mandate. Still, those who refused vaccination but didn’t ask for a religious accommodation could face an Other Than Honorable Discharge for failing to obey a lawful order.
In addition, those sailors who requested the Navy place them on a voluntary resignation or Fleet Reserve list can withdraw or amend their request. It’s unclear what will happen to 652 sailors the Navy already discharged who asked for religious accommodations.
On Friday, March 25, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Navy couldn’t remove the initial 35 service members from the service. What they said was that the military could assign them to non-deployable positions. Unfortunately, the case is not final, and the SCOTUS did not determine the outcome for the service members who sought religious accommodations. The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court to decide whether the Navy could remove them from military service.
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