After refusing to deploy a warship under the command of an officer seeking a religious exemption from the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the Navy is blaming a federal judge in Florida for the resulting operational unavailability of the vessel.
In Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin, Judge Steven Merryday on Feb. 18 granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the Department of Defense from taking “any adverse action” against two plaintiffs, a Navy warship commander and a Marine lieutenant colonel, “because of their refusal to take COVID-19 shots based on religious beliefs,” according to Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom legal advocacy nonprofit representing the two plaintiffs.
The Defense Department sought to stay the judge’s ruling, arguing it allowed “two officers who have refused a lawful order to continue to serve in assignments over the Navy’s objection.”
The government’s filing claimed “the Navy has lost confidence” in the commander’s “ability to lead and will not deploy the warship with him in command.”
The military argued the commander had previously disregarded Navy regulations after he “exposed dozens of his crew to COVID-19 when he decided not to test himself after experiencing symptoms.” The commander tested positive after he was ordered to take a COVID test, and he told his supervisor that he had already discussed his illness with the ship’s corpsman.
“By forcing the Navy to keep in place a commander of a destroyer who has lost the trust of his superior officers and the Navy at large, this Order effectively places a multi-billion-dollar guided missile destroyer out of commission,” the Feb. 28 filing states.
“The prospect of a subordinate commander in charge of other Service members or military assets disregarding the orders of his or her superior for personal reasons, whatever they may be, is itself a manifest national security concern,” wrote Vice Admiral Daniel Dwyer, the head of U.S. 2nd Fleet, in a statement attached to the filing.
Filing its motion on Feb. 28 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, the Defense Department requested a decision by March 2, two days later.
The Pentagon’s motion attempted “to evoke the frightening prospect of a dire national emergency resulting from allegedly reckless and unlawful overreaching by the district judge,” Merryday wrote, “an exigency sufficient to warrant depriving the plaintiffs of a fair opportunity to respond to the motion, depriving the district court of a fair opportunity to consider and resolve the motion, and finally and effectively depriving the two immediately affected service-member plaintiffs of a right explicitly secured by [the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”
Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver told the Navy Times on Monday that the Navy’s claim that they lost confidence in the commander is contradicted by the service’s own actions.
“When this was filed in court saying the ship is not deployable because they lost confidence in the Commander, the Commander was on board the ship out to sea for two weeks of testing and training for military readiness,” Staver noted. “He returned to port last Friday, March 4, after the drills were completed.”
In Liberty Counsel’s March 1 filing, the attorneys wrote that prior to the COVID vaccine being made available, the ship was underway for more than 300 out of 400 days during the pandemic “with no operational impediment,” the Navy Times reported.
“If there is injury to the Navy from shutting down the Commander’s ship, it is self-inflicted and intentional,” the filing states.
“I represent multiple clients who have been ‘fired’ or removed from command or leadership positions for no reason other than their religious faith,” attorney Davis Younts told Just the News on Wednesday. “Some were removed while their religious accommodation request was still being initially processed. In other words, both the Navy and Air Force have removed my clients from leadership positions simply because they notified their leadership that they have religious beliefs that would prevent them from taking the vaccines that were available at the time.
“As a former active duty officer it is deeply troubling to me and my clients that the Navy is attempting to use a distorted version of the facts of this case to change the narrative. The reality is that the Navy has taken unjustified action against several of my [clients] that was not forced by military necessity or the inability of my client to do their job. That appears to be what they are doing in the case of this Navy Commander. If the Navy is taking the position that any Christian who may have a religious objection to a particular vaccine is unfit for command, that is simply further evidence of religious discrimination.”