The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth District ruled on Monday in favor of 35 Navy personnel who sought a religious exemption against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
As per The Christian Post, the appellate court rejected a motion filed by the Department of Defense to remove the block that enforces the COVID-19 mandate on the Navy personnel, which included 26 Navy SEALs.
The court concluded that the 35 service members' complaint, filed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was valid and deserved serious consideration.
"The motion by Defendants for a partial stay of the preliminary injunction pending appeal is DENIED," the judges said.
The Court of Appeals judges elaborated that their decision came after reviewing the plaintiffs' claims as a serious matter. They found that the mandates imposed on them were a violation of the plaintiffs' free exercise rights that would greatly affect their source of livelihood.
"Plaintiffs allege specific, and far from frivolous, violations of their free exercise rights under both the First Amendment and RFRA. Thus, the nature and strength of Plaintiffs' claims weigh in favor of judicial resolution," the judges said.
"Plaintiffs also face irreparable harm if judicial review is denied," they added. "By pitting their consciences against their livelihoods, the vaccine requirements would crush Plaintiffs' free exercise of religion."
The judges also highlighted that the Navy leadership did not even argue that the COVID-19 mandate places a substantial burden on the plaintiff's free exercise of religion "but the nature of the injury bears emphasis."
This was after the plaintiffs sincerely articulated their religious beliefs against the vaccine and that accepting the mandate would directly burden their religious beliefs when coerced "to inject an unremovable substance at odds with their most profound convictions." Yet the defendants did not justify the vaccines against the plaintiffs' religious beliefs.
First Liberty Institute, the plaintiff's legal counsel, filed the lawsuit in November at the United States District Court Northern District of Texas. A preliminary injunction was issued by Judge Reed O'Connor from the said court against the mandate in January. O'Connor said the Navy did not grant the plaintiffs the religious exemption even though it provides an accommodation process for it, which he called a "theater."
O'Connor cited that not a single member has been granted by the Navy such an exemption so far and instead denied applications for it. He stressed that the service members have already sacrificed so much to protect the very freedom they wish to be granted them.
He raised that the pandemic was no reason for the government to have the license to disregard those freedoms since these are explicitly written in the First Amendment and that the Constitution excludes no one from its implementation.
First Liberty Institute Military Affairs Director Mike Berry raised in a statement that denying service members their religious rights devastates their morale and also harms the country's national security. Berry welcomed the Court of Appeal's decision and urged the military to honor its constitutional obligations by granting religious accommodations to the service members who opposed the vaccine.