GOP lawmakers back Navy service members’ lawsuit over vaccine mandate
A group of Republican lawmakers are backing 35 Navy service members who are suing the Pentagon and Navy over the military’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.
The group of 47 lawmakers — 38 House Republicans and nine GOP senators — filed an amicus brief in a Texas federal court supporting the lawsuit, which seeks to enjoin the Pentagon from enforcing the mandate because it violates religious freedoms.
“Plaintiffs’ religious liberty and the government’s asserted interest in protecting our service members from COVID-19 need not be in conflict, especially where, as here, the individuals seeking an exemption are willing to adopt non-vaccination measures to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Pentagon told The Hill that it would be “inappropriate to comment on any pending or ongoing litigation.”
The Navy said it does not comment on pending litigation.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated vaccinations for the military in late August but allowed each military service to set its own deadlines for compliance. The Navy gave active-duty sailors until Nov. 28 to be vaccinated, while reservists still have until Dec. 28 to be in compliance.
Last Wednesday, the service said it will begin discharging sailors who refuse to be vaccinated.
According to the most recent data from the Navy released Thursday, the Navy has received 2,751 active-duty requests for religious accommodation for the vaccine mandate, none of which have been approved.
At issue in the original lawsuit, which was filed in early November, is whether the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits federal agencies from burdening a person’s religious freedoms without a compelling reason.
In their brief, the lawmakers argue that the Pentagon is forcing the plaintiffs to be vaccinated even though there is “no compelling interest” in requiring vaccinations because the plaintiffs are willing to take other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Even if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was not passed, the mandate still violates the right to religious freedom in the First Amendment, the lawmakers continued.
“If Defendants’ mandate is allowed to stand without realistically obtainable religious exemptions for our servicemen and women, it could create significant consequences for our military’s future readiness,” the brief reads. “It will be more difficult for our military to recruit highly qualified individuals of faith to serve our country—a consequence that is wholly unnecessary, damaging to our military’s morale, and damaging to our national security.”
–Updated at 12:39 p.m.
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