United States military service members have been demoted, harassed, abused and threatened by superiors for seeking religious exemptions to the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a federal class-action lawsuit alleges. One Air Force technical sergeant—seven months pregnant—who requested exemption faces court martial if she doesn’t take the shots, the suit says.
Nearly two dozen service members, federal employees and contractors filed suit Oct. 15 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against President Joseph R. Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the U.S. military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate issued in August. It says the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Plaintiffs have demonstrated their commitments to the United States Constitution and the nation’s future comfort, security and prosperity,” the suit said. “This court should demand that the nation return the favor. Telling plaintiffs they must accept or receive a shot they oppose according to their sincerely held religious beliefs, or face court martial, dishonorable discharge and other-life altering disciplinary measures, disgraces the sacrifices these heroes have made.”
Plaintiffs include a wide range of ranks from the U.S. Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard, plus federal employees and contractors. Among the plaintiffs are two Navy SEALs, an Army Ranger, a Navy chaplain, two lieutenant colonels, a full colonel, an explosives ordnance disposal officer and a senior chief petty officer. Some had their request for religious exemption denied, while others were demoted or reassigned after submitting their requests, the suit says.
“The Biden administration has no authority to require the COVID shots for the military or for federal employees or civilian contractors,” said Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm that represents the service members. “Nor can the Biden administration pretend that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment do not apply to its unlawful mandates. The Commander-in-Chief must end this shameful treatment and abuse of our brave military heroes. Forcing the COVID shots without consent or consideration for their sincere religious beliefs is illegal.”
Coercion and threats used
On Aug. 24, Defense Secretary Austin issued a vaccine mandate, assuring service personnel that the military “will only use COVID-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)…” Austin said vaccine mandates “are familiar to all of our service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself.” Service personnel and contractors face deadlines between Nov. 22 and Dec. 15 to receive a COVID-19 shot.
The suit describes coercion directed at those who requested a religious exemption to the mandate. Many of the plaintiffs oppose the shots over research and development ties to cell lines derived from aborted babies. Service members have been threatened with court martial, dishonorable discharge and loss of benefits for requesting exemptions, the suit said.
“Defendants are threatening these military heroes with dishonorable discharge for even requesting a religious exemption from the COVID-19 shots,” the suit reads. “Dishonorable discharge is worse than criminal conviction for these service members, because it is a badge of disgrace that follows them for the rest of their lives.”
A plaintiff identified only as Navy SEAL 1 was denied a religious exemption, then “preemptively removed from his position as platoon chief,” the suit says. An explosives ordnance disposal officer who asked for an exemption was placed on “not physically qualified” (NPQ) status that could cost him his position if his religious exemption is denied. A Navy chief petty officer who obtained sub-investigator certification from the FDA in 2017 said COVID-19 vaccine policies are “completely the opposite” of what he learned from the FDA in 2017, especially as it relates to informed consent, the suit said.
A Navy chaplain serving with a carrier strike group said many sailors are anguished to tears over pressure to take the shots. “I personally observed and experienced tremendous amounts of coercion, bullying, censorship, and intimidation being brought forth by the command to bear against the personnel who expressed objections of any kind to the COVID shot mandates, including religious objections,” the chaplain said in an affidavit. The chaplain requested his own exemption, but his commander opposed it, the suit said. “If his request is not approved, Navy chaplain fears being forced to choose between his career of service to fellow sailors, which he loves, and his faith in God and God’s commands.”
A Marine Corps lieutenant colonel requested a religious exemption over her opposition to abortion — something she developed after being forgiven by God for procuring an abortion after being raped. “The COVID shot mandate, given the use of aborted fetal cell lines in testing and development, places Lieutenant Colonel 2 in the position of reliving her rape and subsequent abortion, by being forcibly injected with a product tested on or made with aborted fetal cells…”
A lance corporal who requested a religious exemption due to his Christian beliefs was told by several non-commissioned officers “it is unlikely your religious exemption request will be approved” because “they’re just going to deny them all.”
No approved vaccines available?
Despite assurances the military will only use “fully licensed” vaccines, none of the shots available in the United States has full FDA approval, the suit says. On Aug. 23 the FDA approved the COVID-19 shot Comirnaty, which has the same formulation as the emergency-use Pfizer-BioNTech shots. The suit says Comirnaty is not available in the U.S., meaning only emergency vaccines are in use. Under federal law, such shots cannot be compelled. The FDA has said Comirnaty and the Pfizer-BioNTech shots are “legally distinct.”
Millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots need to be used before the fully approved Comirnaty becomes available, the suit said. “There are currently no available doses of Comirnaty in the United States and Comirnaty is not being manufactured for production and distribution in the United States at this time.”
The class-action suit is the latest salvo in the vaccine-mandate wars that erupted in recent months. Litigation filed in dozens of states by student athletes, police officers, firefighters and health care workers, alleges constitutional rights are being trampled by illegal shot mandates. Many of the lawsuits center around religious objections to the shots, although some argue that COVID survivors with natural immunity against reinfection should likewise be exempt.
Liberty Counsel said the treatment received by its clients is a slap in the face to those who put their lives on the line to defend the Constitution. “For to turn the same Constitution that United States Armed Forces members protect and defend into a weapon against them would be a travesty unknown to the nation’s founding character, and eclipse any dereliction of duty heretofore seen in the great experiment of America.”
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