A federal judge on Monday blocked the U.S. Department of Defense from disciplining a group of Navy SEALs and other special forces members who refused COVID-19 vaccines on religious grounds.
Judge Reed O’Connor, the U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Texas, was acting in response to a lawsuit filed by First Liberty Institute in November on behalf of 35 special forces service members. O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction barring the Navy and Defense Department from enforcing the mandate.
The service members had faced a range of military disciplinary actions for refusing the vaccine.
“The Navy service members in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” O’Connor wrote in the 26-page ruling. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”
The judge noted in his decision that the Navy has not granted a single religious exemption to the vaccine rule.
The First Liberty Institute, a legal organization dedicated to defending religious liberty for all Americans, had previously argued that the Biden Administration was attempting what appeared to be an “ideological purge.”
On condition of anonymity, an active duty officer told Fox News Digital the same thing, describing the vaccine mandate as “an unconstitutional edict that I think is very targeted as a political purge, taking out some of the best and brightest soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians from the Space Force.”
The SEALS were facing punishments such as “court-martial (criminal) prosecution, relief from leadership positions, revocation of special operator status, placement on a non-deployable status, drastic pay cuts, and a loss of travel privileges,” according to the complaint.
“Forcing a service member to choose between their faith and serving their country is abhorrent to the Constitution and America’s values,” said Mike Berry, the First Liberty Institute’s general counsel, in a written statement.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and several other Republicans in Congress signed an amicus brief in December in support of the lawsuit.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby had little to say about O’Connor’s decision.
“We are aware of the injunction and are reviewing it,” he told reporters.
This comes a day after the triple vaxxed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Austin, who is notorious for taking ultra precautions to protect himself from the coronavirus—including wearing a mask and face shield while visiting the Philippines, last year—said in a statement that he is still “grateful” for the vaccine. He said he is experiencing “mild” symptoms, and will quarantine at home for the next several days.
“As my doctor made clear to me, my fully vaccinated status — and the booster I received in early October — have rendered the infection much more mild than it would otherwise have been. And I am grateful for that,” the statement read.