WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal choose in Texas has granted a preliminary injunction stopping the Navy from performing towards 35 sailors for refusing on spiritual grounds to adjust to an order to get vaccinated towards COVID-19.
The injunction is a brand new problem to Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin’s resolution to make vaccinations necessary for all members of the army. The vaccination requirement permits for exemptions on spiritual and different grounds, however not one of the hundreds of requests for spiritual waivers to date have been granted.
There was no indication that the order would have an effect on service members past the 35 sailors who sued Austin and the Navy. The Pentagon had no rapid response to a request for remark.
Properly over 90 % of the army has been totally vaccinated towards COVID-19, together with at the least 98.5 % of energetic and reserve members of the Navy. Austin asserts that vaccines are a legitimate and vital medical requirement to guard service members and their households and make sure the fight readiness of the pressure.
In his resolution Monday, U.S. District Choose Reed O’Connor wrote that the Navy’s course of for contemplating a sailor’s request for a non secular exemption is flawed and quantities to “theater.”
O’Connor, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote that the group of 35 sailors who sued the federal government in November and sought a preliminary injunction towards the Navy have a proper on spiritual and First Modification grounds to refuse the vaccination order.
“The Navy servicemembers on this case search to vindicate the very freedoms they’ve sacrificed a lot to guard,” O’Connor wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic offers the federal government no license to abrogate these freedoms. There isn’t a COVID-19 exception to the First Modification. There isn’t a army exclusion from our Structure.”
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The O’Connor injunction was first reported by The Washington Put up.
With out commenting on the case in Texas, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby final month defended the validity of the army service’s processes for contemplating spiritual exemptions.
“Every exemption requested for on spiritual grounds is evaluated by a chaplain, by a series of command, by medical consultants and is given various thought, they usually’re all determined case by case individually,” he mentioned Dec. 21.
In his resolution in favor of the injunction sought by the 35 Navy sailors, O’Connor wrote that they objected to being vaccinated on 4 grounds: “opposition to abortion and the usage of aborted fetal cell strains in improvement of the vaccine; perception that modifying one’s physique is an affront to the Creator; divine instruction to not obtain the vaccine, and opposition to injecting hint quantities of animal cells into one’s physique.”
“Plaintiffs’ beliefs concerning the vaccine are undisputedly honest, and it isn’t the position of this court docket to find out their truthfulness or accuracy,” the choose wrote.
The sailors who sued are members of the Naval Particular Warfare Command, together with SEALs. The swimsuit was filed by First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on defending spiritual liberty.
Within the early levels of the pandemic, the Navy struggled with one notably vital COVID-19 outbreak. A whole lot of sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt plane provider have been contaminated, beginning in late March whereas on a deployment to Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia. The ship was taken out of operation at Guam, its commanding officer was relieved of responsibility and the disaster led to the resignation of performing Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.
Since then, the Navy and different companies have managed to keep away from main disruptions. In December, officers mentioned about two dozen sailors on board the USS Milwaukee, or roughly 25 % of the ship’s crew, had examined constructive for COVID-19, conserving the vessel sidelined in port at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. On Monday, the Navy introduced that the ship had returned to sea.
AP author Eric Tucker contributed to this report.