Federal judge grants preliminary injunction against Navy SEAL vaccine mandate News
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Federal judge grants preliminary injunction against Navy SEAL vaccine mandate

Judge Reed O’Connor of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas temporarily enjoined the United States Navy’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy on Monday.

In August 2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all service members. The Navy issued its own mandate requiring all active-duty service members to be fully vaccinated before November 28, 2021.

As of December 22, 2021, the DOD reported that 81,690 members of the Navy are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. According to Judge O’Connor, this figure accounts for 99.4 percent of all Navy service members. An additional 9,321 members of the Navy are partially vaccinated.

35 Navy SEALs requested religious accommodations to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, of which 29 were denied. Those whose requests were denied then filed a lawsuit on November 9, 2021 and requested a preliminary injunction. In order to grant a preliminary injunction, a court must find a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, a substantial threat of irreparable harm, a balance of hardships which weighs in the plaintiffs’ favor and that the injunction will not disserve the public interest.

Judge O’Connor first determined that the Navy SEALs are likely to succeed on their substantive claims that the vaccine mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment and that mandate’s medical-disqualification provision, which only applies to service members with religious accommodations and not those with medical exemptions, will fail strict scrutiny.

O’Connor next found evidence of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs based on the infringement of their religious liberties, reduced pay and the “dishonor” of possibly being court-martialed. Finally, O’Connor considered the last two factors together and found that infringement of the plaintiffs’ religious liberties “outweighs any forthcoming harm to the Navy” because the service’s vaccination rates are high and its COVID-19 hospitalizations are low.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called the court’s ruling a “major win” on Twitter.