On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a group of Navy SEALs who defied the U.S. Navy’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, dealing one of the biggest blows yet to the military mandate.
As reported by The Daily Caller, the court’s ruling was similar to a previous decision by a district judge in Fort Worth, Texas in January, who ordered a temporary halt to the Navy’s vaccine mandate while the case moved forward. The lawsuit was filed by a group of 35 Navy SEALs who all sought religious exemptions from being forced to take the vaccine.
The appeals court ruled that the Department of Defense failed to prove that the vaccine mandate served “‘paramount interests’ that justify vaccinating these 35 Plaintiffs against COVID-19 in violation of their religious beliefs.” The court noted that despite the Navy claiming to have a “compelling interest” in forcing all sailors to get vaccinated, it “undermined” its own mandate by preparing unvaccinated SEALs for deployment while the pandemic was still ongoing.
Furthermore, the court pointed out that the Navy had already granted religious exemptions to at least 17 service members who previously requested such exemptions, and the Navy failed to “differentiate those service members from [the] Plaintiffs.” In conclusion, the court wrote, the “Defendants have not shown a compelling interest to deny religious accommodations to each of these 35 Plaintiffs.”
The vaccine mandate for the U.S. military was first announced in August of 2021 by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who ordered that every branch of the military force all members to get vaccinated. Although the vast majority of requests for religious exemptions have been denied, there have been a handful of legal victories in individual cases against the mandate from within each branch.