On Monday, a federal judge blocked the Pentagon from taking “any adverse action” against Navy sailors claiming a religious exemption from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
Background: In November, a group of 35 Navy sailors filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate arguing the order violated their right to religious freedom.
The mandate required all active-duty servicemen to be vaccinated by Nov. 28 or be discharged from the Navy.
What Happened: Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas sided with the group of Navy Special Warfare service members. In his ruling, O’Connor noted that the Pentagon rejected at least 29 of the 35 requests for a religious exemption, claiming the branch “merely rubber stamps each denial.”
“Our nation asks the men and women in our military to serve, suffer, and sacrifice. But we do not ask them to lay aside their citizenry and give up the very rights they have sworn to protect,” wrote O’Connor, who was appointed by then-President George W. Bush.
“The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution,” he added. (per The Hill)
What Comes Next: The Pentagon noted it is studying the ruling and will plan the next steps as the matter “requires litigation.”
What Republicans say: Republican lawmakers cheered the decision, calling it a win for religious freedom.