By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORT
(The Center Square) — A group of Navy SEALs has filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration over its vaccine mandate.
They’re the latest to join the legal fight over what critics are calling unconstitutional government overreach.
Dozens of SEALs, along with other Navy service members, joined in the lawsuit after the Department of Defense refused to grant them COVID-19 vaccination exemptions.
With President Joe Biden’s approval, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in August that all U.S. service members must be vaccinated.
“The fact that the government has not granted a single religious exemption from the vaccine mandate shows that the Biden administration does not care about religious freedom,” said Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty Institute, the legal group representing the plaintiffs. “Instead, this appears to be an attempted ideological purge. After all these elite warriors have done to defend our freedoms, the Navy is now threatening their careers, families and finances.”
“It’s appalling, and it has to stop before any more harm is done to our national security,” he added.
According to First Liberty Institute, the service members who requested religious exemptions to the vaccine were told they may face “court-martial or involuntary separation.”
“Each of their religious exemption denials appear to be identical, suggesting the Navy is not taking their requests seriously,” the group said. “The Navy also warned some of the plaintiffs that if they sought a religious exemption, the Navy would confiscate their Special Warfare devices — such as the famous SEAL ‘Trident’ — that they proudly wear on their uniforms. The Vaccine Mandate substantially burdens the SEALs’ free exercise of religion, and the Department of Defense has failed to prove it has a compelling government interest, or that there are no less restrictive ways to further its effort to mitigate the COVID-19 virus.”
The latest lawsuit comes after a federal court temporarily halted Biden’s mandate that private sector companies with more than 99 employees ensure that their workers are vaccinated or receive weekly testing. More than 20 states have joined a series of lawsuits challenging the private sector vaccine mandate. A separate vaccination mandate for federal employees is also facing pushback.
Many SEALs have reportedly left in anticipation that they would be forced out.
“We generally have about 2,500 Navy SEALs,” Robert O’Neill, a former Navy SEAL who claims to have killed Osama Bin Laden in Operation Neptune Spear, said after the mandate was announced. “It takes time to get to certain levels. Hundreds are leaving because of nonsense.”
Casey Harper works at The Center Square’s Washington, D.C., bureau.