TAMPA, FLORIDA — A class-wide suit against the U.S. Marine Corps will move forward after federal Judge Steven Douglas Merryday of the Middle District of Florida granted an injunction on Wednesday. COVID-19 vaccine mandates apply to all Marines, active duty, and those in reserve service.
All six military branches are entangled in legal issues, as service members have refused to take the vaccine. As a result, thousands are being separated from service while recruiters struggle to fill gaps in personnel.
“IGNORED RELIGIOUS FREEDOM”
But many members of the military who refused to take the jab applied for religious exemptions to the mandates – which were denied. Many believe that mRNA vaccine manufacturers used fetal tissue obtained from an aborted unborn child in the research phase. Faith communities have had concerns over the use of the cells since the rollout of the vaccines.
The Liberty Counsel, a law firm focused on protecting religious rights, sued the Defense Department and claimed that the plaintiffs, U.S. Marines, were denied their right to an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
According to the legal brief filed by the Liberty Counsel, "the Department of Defense has relentlessly violated the law and ignored their religious freedom. Today, that lawlessness ends. Liberty Counsel has the great privilege to defend these service members who love God and their country," the brief explained.
JUDGE: RFRA STANDS
In the ruling, Judge Merryday wrote that the RFRA applies to everyone, from the President of the United States to a park ranger, even if they disagree with it. The Department of Defense, according to the ruling, failed to uphold the religious freedom of its service members.
In 2019 the Air Force reported they were short nearly 2,000 pilots out of a needed 18,400. Now, an estimated 700 pilots are facing ends to their careers because they have requested religious exemptions to the military's vaccine mandate.
CASES ACROSS SERVICE BRANCHES
Several class-action cases across the country have blocked the military from enforcing the COVID-19 vaccine on personnel whose application for a religious exemption was denied or is still in progress.
In March, a federal judge in Ohio stopped the Air Force from enforcing the jab. According to the ruling, "members face the same injury: violation of their constitutional freedom by defendants' clear policy of discrimination against religious accommodation requests," wrote Judge Matthew McFarland from the Southern District of Ohio.
In Texas earlier this year, federal Judge Reed O'Connor blocked the Navy when a group of 35 Navy SEALs sued the Department of Defense. The case was challenged at the Supreme Court. The Justice Department made a strategic decision to appeal only the portion of the Texas judge's ruling related to deployment and assignment. In a 6–3 order, the court blocked the lower court injunction regarding the deployment of the SEALs and other special warfare troops.
NEW CLASS ACTION
After the Supreme Court ruling, O'Connor transformed the original lawsuit into a new class action suit, increasing the number of plaintiffs to 4,095 service members. The judge stated that because most of the force is already vaccinated, the Navy does not have a compelling interest in requiring vaccines. In addition, he noted that the Navy allows other troops with medical exemptions to remain on active duty.
National Guard members have also refused the vaccine for religious reasons, affecting military readiness domestically, according to Nathalie Grogan, a researcher for the Center for a New American Security. "It's going to be noticed, and problems are going to be much more evident to the American people," she told Military.com.