Fox News reports that one Texas judge just stopped the U.S. Navy from taking action against those members who, on religious grounds, have refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
As you will see, the Texas judge appears to essentially be daring the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule him.
This case stems from the coronavirus vaccination mandate that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced last year for all service members. 99% of the Navy has complied with the mandate, but some haven’t.
35 active-duty Navy SEALs who haven’t complied are now challenging the mandate in court. They attempted to get a religious exemption to the mandate, but the Navy refused to grant their request. And so now, the SEALs are facing the threat of being discharged from the Navy.
In the lawsuit, the SEALs are arguing that the Navy, in practice, is violating their Constitutionally-protected religious freedoms. The SEALs cite as evidence the fact that the Navy has granted hundreds of medical and administrative exemptions but only nine religious exemptions, which all went to inactive reserve members.
The legal proceedings
At the outset of the case, the Navy SEALs attempted to get the court to grant an injunction that would stop the Navy from enforcing the vaccine mandate while the mandate’s legality is being litigated.
In early January, Judge Reed O’Connor, the U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Texas, granted that injunction. In his decision, O’Connor wrote:
The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. 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.
Just recently, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed O’Connor’s ruling on the injunction. In a brief order, the court said that the Navy is still allowed to consider the vaccination status of those challenging the vaccine mandate when making decisions about deployment, assignment, and the like.
Just this week, O’Connor decided to allow the lawsuit to go forward as a class-action lawsuit. This means that about 4,000 soldiers, in addition to the 35 Navy SEALs, are now challenging the vaccine mandate.
O’Connor also made it clear that his injunction applies to the 4,000 soldiers as well. “Even though their personal circumstances may factually differ in small ways, the threat is the same – get the jab or lose your job,” he wrote.
The likelihood is that the Biden administration will now appeal the matter to the Supreme Court, and the big question is how the justices will rule.
It ought to be noted that this case is still in its early stages. So far, the battle has been over preliminary relief. The legality of the vaccine mandate itself has not been ruled on.