- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A federal judge in Texas has expanded a lawsuit against the Navy over religious exemptions to the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, as well as issuing a temporary injunction blocking the Navy from requiring service members to take the jab.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor gave the lawsuit filed on behalf of several dozen Navy SEALs and other special warfare fighters “class action” status, ruling the case open to all service members who’ve requested a religious exemption from the mandate.

Judge O’Connor, nominated to the federal bench in 2007 by President George W. Bush, wrote in his decision that the Navy’s stinginess in granting religious exemptions means that “while Defendants encourage this Court to disregard the data, it is hard to imagine a more consistent display of discrimination.”

The Navy can, however, continue to use vaccination status when making personnel assignment decisions, a move sanctioned last week by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote.

Attorney Mike Berry, director of military affairs for public-interest law firm First Liberty Institute, said Judge O’Connor’s analysis gets to the heart of the issue, one involving “somewhere over 4,000 sailors that have requested a religious accommodation” on the vaccine mandate.

The armed forces have granted only a handful of such exemptions while those seeking medical or administrative exemptions have had an easier time of it, the attorney said.

“It really doesn’t matter whether the military makes other vaccines mandatory, including COVID,” Mr. Berry said in an interview. “The real crux of the legal issue is the fact that when the military allows for medical and administrative exemptions, but refuses to allow religious exemptions, which is what they’ve publicly stated is their policy with the COVID vaccine, that is textbook discrimination, religious discrimination.”

Mr. Berry said the Justice Department has already appealed Judge O’Connor’s injunction to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Washington Times has reached out to the Department of the Navy and the Justice Department for comment.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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