The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in favor of service members objecting to the Navy's COVID-19 vaccine mandate due to their religious beliefs.
On Monday, a three-judge panel denied the Navy's request to require about three dozen personnel to get vaccinated despite their objections on religious grounds. The SEALs, represented by First Liberty Institute, filed a lawsuit against the Navy since they were at risk of being fired for not complying with the mandate.
"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 vaccination," the judges wrote, according to The Washington Examiner.
"But evidence, recited previously and not meaningfully challenged here, suggests that the Navy has effectively stacked the deck against even those exemptions supported by Plaintiffs' immediate commanding officers and military chaplains."
In January, a federal judge also sided with the SEALs holding religious objections to the vaccines. First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal nonprofit specializing in religious liberty cases, filed a motion in late January claimingthat the Navy retaliated against the plaintiffs and called on the judge to hold the military branch in contempt.
"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," Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute Mike Berry said in a statement.
"The purge of religious service members is not just devastating to morale, but it harms America's national security," he continued. "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."
In addition to opposing the mandate, the SEALs argued that the Department of Defense did not legally consider their requests for religious exemptions. Out of roughly 16,000 requests, the service only granted 20 of them.
The servicemembers, who are all Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant, "do not object to safety measures that reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace," but rather, they oppose the vaccine's ingredients.
The SEALs object to the use of "fetal cell lines in [the] development of the vaccine" since they opposed abortion. According to the lawsuit, the SEALs believe "that modifying one's body is an affront to the Creator," and therefore, they have received "direct, divine instruction not to receive the vaccine."
As of last week, just over 1,100 service members were discharged from the Air Force, Marines and Navy for not complying with the vaccine mandate. On Monday, the Army announced that it would start discharging servicemembers who refused to get vaccinated.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.