The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied a request on Monday from the U.S. Navy that would have forced service members of the SEAL team to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, despite their religious objections.
A three-judge panel rejected the Navy's attempt to enforce the vaccine mandate issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Biden administration.
Attorneys with First Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit in November on behalf of 35 service members. The lawsuit outlined that multiple plaintiffs requested a religious exemption to the COVID shots because "the vaccines were developed, tested, or produced using aborted fetal cell lines."
In their opinion, the judges point out that, "The Navy has not accommodated any religious request to abstain from any vaccination in seven years, and to date, it has denied all religiously based claims for exemption from COVID-19. But evidence suggests that the Navy has effectively stacked the deck against even those exemptions supported by Plaintiffs' immediate commanding officers and military chaplains."
In addition to their religious objections, many of the SEALs have already contracted and recovered from the virus, while some have had antibody tests showing that they acquired natural immunity.
CBN News previously reported that the directive issued by the Navy stated that if a SEAL declined the vaccine, the military could attempt to recover money that the government has spent on his training.
"Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America's values," said Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute. "Punishing SEALs for simply asking for a religious accommodation is purely vindictive and punitive. We're pleased that the court has acted to protect our brave warriors before more damage is done to our national security."
First Liberty points out that SEALs dedicate years of their lives in training to become the most elite fighting force. Yet, the Navy is willing to oust them or force them to repay the cost of their training simply because their beliefs keep them from receiving a COVID vaccine.
"Events around the world remind us daily that there are those who seek to harm America. Our military should be welcoming service members, not forcing them out because of their religious beliefs," asserted Berry.
He added, "The purge of religious service members is not just devastating to morale, but it harms America's national security. It's time for our military to honor its constitutional obligations and grant religious accommodations for service members with sincere religious objections to the vaccine. We're grateful the Fifth Circuit denied the Navy's motion."