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Supreme Court Rules Navy Can Refuse to Deploy SEALs Who Won’t Get COVID Vaccine

MilitarySupreme Court Rules Navy Can Refuse to Deploy SEALs Who Won’t Get COVID Vaccine

Navy Army Marines COVIDA Navy hospital corpsman administers the Pfizer vaccine to a sailor in 2021. Navy photo

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday granted a request by President Joe Biden’s administration to let the Navy decline to deploy SEALs and other special operations forces personnel who refused mandatory COVID-19 vaccination due to religious objections.

The court put on hold part of a federal judge’s ruling stating that 26 members of the elite Navy SEALs and nine other special operations forces personnel were entitled to a religious exemption to the vaccine requirement under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion, as well as a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“In this case, the district court, while no doubt well-intentioned, in effect inserted itself into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding military commanders’ professional military judgments,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion.

The court — which has a 6-3 conservative majority — was divided, with three conservative justices saying they would have denied the request.

In a dissenting opinion, conservative Justice Samuel Alito said that the court “does a great injustice” to the Navy personnel who “appear to have been treated shabbily.”

Under another part of Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling not affected by the Supreme Court action, the service members cannot be disciplined or discharged as a result of refusing the vaccine.

Besides the SEALs, the other nine plaintiffs include specialist naval craft crewmen, divers and a bomb disposal expert.

On Feb. 28, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a similar request from Biden’s administration.

The administration is contesting O’Connor’s Jan. 3 decision in favor of the servicemembers, in which the judge wrote that their “loss of religious liberties outweighs any forthcoming harm to the Navy.”

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