- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Three Coast Guard members, including the branch’s top academy graduate in 2020, have filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration for denying them religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Filed Friday on behalf of an estimated 1,200 Coast Guard personnel, the class-action lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas to allow the exemptions. The lawsuit notes that similar court orders have stopped the Air Force, Navy and Marines from vaccinating service members who seek religious exemptions.

The filing names Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan and Assistant Commandant Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer as defendants. It claims their “blanket policy” of denying religious exemptions violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment freedom of religious expression.

“Defendants’ policy of denying all religious accommodation requests no matter the circumstances is vastly out of step with policies in the rest of the country, including in the countless workplaces across the country that currently provide religious accommodations without any evidence of causing harm,” the complaint states.

The lead plaintiff is Lt. (j.g.) Alaric Stone, the Coast Guard Academy’s 2020 Distinguished Honor Graduate. The other named plaintiffs are Lt. (j.g.) Michael Marcenelle and Non-Commissioned Officer Eric Jackson.

According to legal documents, they face involuntary discharge after the Coast Guard denied their religious exemption requests and their claims to have developed natural immunity. The lawsuit also seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent their dismissal.

“There are more than a thousand other Coast Guard men and women who have religious objections to these vaccines and find themselves in a similar position,” Lt. Stone said in a statement.

In an email to The Washington Times, a Coast Guard spokesperson said it does not comment on pending litigation. An official at the Pentagon also had no comment.

The three Coast Guard plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys from the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm in Chicago that won the injunction against the Air Force earlier this year.

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

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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