Legal group seeks protection for Navy personnel objecting to COVID vaccine on religious grounds

Legal group seeks protection for Navy personnel objecting to COVID vaccine on religious grounds.

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Denver Newsroom, Jan 24, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A Christian legal group has filed a class-action lawsuit with the goal of blocking the Navy’s COVID vaccine mandate for all U.S. Navy personnel who have requested religious accommodation. 

First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group, had filed a federal lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction earlier this month on behalf of “dozens” of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel, who represent Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity

As a result of the initial lawsuit, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Jan. 3 issued an injunction preventing the Department of Defense from taking “any adverse action” against the plaintiffs in the case because of requests for religious accommodation. 

The amended lawsuit, which the group announced this week, seeks to cover all Navy service members who have submitted requests for religious accommodation against the vaccine mandate, almost all of which, up to now, have been denied. The group says at least 3,000 service members have submitted requests. 

In August 2021, the Pentagon announced that all service members would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In advance of that announcement, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services said that receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States was morally permissible, and that a vaccine mandate “seems prudent” and would be “very similar” to mandates already enforced in the military.

First Liberty says the religious objections that the plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit raised fell into four categories: opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in development of the vaccine; belief that modifying one’s body is an affront to the creator; direct, divine instruction not to receive the vaccine; and opposition to injecting trace amounts of animal cells into one’s body.

Most of the requests made have been denied, O’Connor wrote in his ruling, and some of the plaintiffs report mistreatment as a result of asking for a religious exemption. 

Catholic bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

Archbishop Broglio has encouraged Catholics to follow the guidance of the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, both of whom have stated that it is morally permissible to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations currently available in the United States, even ones with a remote connection to aborted fetal tissue. 

Archbishop Broglio has also said that service members should not be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine against their consciences. 

“The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible,” Broglio said in October.

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