About nine months after a conservative legal group filed a lawsuit on behalf of 35 United States Navy SEALs seeking religious exemptions to a vaccine mandate, many service members are reportedly being consigned to terrible living conditions as they await a court decision.
According to Fox News, First Liberty Institute filed the initial lawsuit in November 2021. It argued that the coronavirus vaccine mandate from the Department of Defense infringed on service members’ First Amendment freedoms.
“Plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs forbid each of them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine for a variety of reasons based upon their Christian faith as revealed through the Holy Bible and prayerful discernment,” the November lawsuit stated.
“Multiple Plaintiffs hold the sincere religious belief that all life is sacred, from conception to natural death, and that abortion is the impermissible taking of an innocent life in the womb. As a result of their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding life and abortion, multiple Plaintiffs are unable to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines due to what they believe and understand is a connection between these vaccines and their testing, development, or production using aborted fetal cell lines.”
Based in Plano, Texas, the First Liberty Institute bills itself as “the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty for all Americans.”
In a case summary on its website, the group said a federal district court judge issued an injunction in January prohibiting the Navy from enforcing the vaccine mandate against those seeking a religious exemption.
But in March, a 6-3 Supreme Court decision blocked the injunction and granted the Biden administration’s emergency application for a partial stay allowing the Navy to make operational decisions with vaccine status in mind.
As lower courts around the country continue to hear the case against the Navy’s vaccine mandate, many sailors are “stuck in limbo,” Fox News reported. Sadly, the Navy has reportedly not been kind to these particular service members.
Another court filing from First Liberty in June alleged sailors who are awaiting their fate regarding the vaccine mandate are being forced to reside on run-down U.S. vessels known as berthing barges.
A berthing barge is essentially a large “floating barracks,” according to a 2021 report in the the military-focused website Task & Purpose. They’re not known for their comfort level. The Task & Purpose report is headlined “The Navy has a floating barracks that is somehow worse than living on an actual ship.”
The First Liberty filing bears that out.
In a court declaration, according to Fox, one sailor who had joined the class action lawsuit and asked to be released from the Navy reported receiving an assignment to “deplorable” conditions in the berthing barge of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier.
“Because I could not leave the area, I moved onto the berthing barge for the Eisenhower,” the sailor said, according to Fox. “The conditions on the barge are deplorable, much like the USS George Washington, which is anchored in the same shipyard. There is mold everywhere and the barge’s toilets back up and leak.
“The water leaks out of the base of the toilet and collects near my rack and out into the hall. On bad days, it goes into the berthings on the other side. The leaks seem to be sewage—it smells like sewage and looks like it too.”
The sailor said the toilets were basically unusable because of the living organisms inside of them.
“There is some sort of worm thriving in the stagnant water in the toilet bowls and on the floor in the leaked water around the base of the toilets,” the sailor said. “Needless to say, I do not feel comfortable or safe in this environment and I have contacted mental health services multiple times.”
The sailor declared a sincere wish to be separated from the Navy, but did not want that to affect how the request for a religious exemption was viewed.
“I do want—desperately—to be separated from the Navy as soon as possible, but I struggle with withdrawing my request [for separation] as I feel it could signal that my religious objection was somehow not genuine, and it is. It feels wrong to have to renounce my beliefs in order to get the Navy to separate me,” the sailor stated, according to Fox.
While First Liberty’s June lawsuit was filed on behalf of just 35 Navy SEALs, this is a small fraction of the number of sailors awaiting a decision about religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate.
A recent filing from First Liberty indicated there were 4,244 Navy sailors awaiting a decision, and not one religious exemption had yet been granted by the Navy, Fox News reported. The Navy had granted a small number of medical exemptions, most of which were temporary.
First Liberty’s filing included written testimony from a Navy technician who reported receiving worse performance ratings since seeking a religious exemption.
“Prior to the vaccine mandate, I consistently earned a ‘must promote’ rating on my performance evaluations,” the sailor wrote. “This year, because I submitted a religious accommodation and was planning on separating, I was given a ‘promote’ status.
“This downgrade in ranking makes it appear as if my skills as a sailor have regressed. I have maintained my work throughout the year and was told during a briefing on my evaluation that the rating was not due to my performance, but my upcoming separation because of the denial of my religious accommodation.
This technician, who has served more than nine years in the Navy, no longer wants to be part of it, according to the filing quoted by Fox.
“To date, I am still unable to separate,” the sailor wrote. “My work environment feels extremely toxic over the vaccine issue, which has caused both my wife and I much stress. Because of my sincerely held religious objection, I will not take the COVID-19 vaccine. Because of the hardship and stress this process has brought to my family, I do not wish to be a part of the United States Navy anymore.”
Anyone who makes the brave decision to serve our country should be commended for such courage. Instead, over 4,000 Navy sailors are apparently being mistreated because of their religious beliefs.
Religious freedom and the freedom to make individual medical decisions are American rights, the Biden administration’s attempt to snatch those rights from our service members is despicable. If we hope to maintain a semblance of the powerful military this nation needs, the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate must be repealed immediately.
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