U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor has put a stop to the Navy from acting against 35 sailors for refusing on religious grounds to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The injunction is a new challenge to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s decision to make vaccinations mandatory for all members of the military. The vaccination requirement allows for exemptions on religious and other grounds, but none of the thousands of requests for religious waivers so far have been granted.
There was no indication that the order would affect service members beyond the 35 sailors who sued Austin and the Navy.
O’Connor, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote that the group of 35 sailors who sued the government in November and sought a preliminary injunction against the Navy have a right on religious and First Amendment grounds to refuse the vaccination order.
In his decision in favor of the injunction sought by the 35 Navy sailors, O’Connor wrote that they objected to being vaccinated on four grounds: “opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in development of the vaccine; belief that modifying one’s body is an affront to the Creator; divine instruction not to receive the vaccine, and opposition to injecting trace amounts of animal cells into one’s body.”
The sailors who sued are members of the Naval Special Warfare Command, including SEALs. The suit was filed by First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on defending religious liberty.