(The Center Square) – The Orlando-based religious freedom organization, Liberty Counsel, is pushing back against the Biden administration for seeking to dismiss its case over religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, Navy SEAL 1 v Austin.
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The Department of Defense filed a motion to dismiss using arguments the court has previously rejected. It argues each of the plaintiffs and the entire class should be litigated separately in different courts nationwide. Liberty Counsel asked federal Judge Steve Merryday to deny the request.
Currently, the case is being tried in Tampa where some of the plaintiffs reside.
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Liberty Counsel argues that courts have unanimously ruled that a lawsuit may be brought in a court district where some of the plaintiffs or defendants reside. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges a cause of action common to all members of the class. It argues the DOD and all U.S. military branches unlawfully denied service members’ religious accommodation requests, violating their rights protected by the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Liberty Counsel is seeking class certification for members of all six branches of the military who’ve been denied religious exemptions from the DOD’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Judge Steven Merryday has previously granted its injunction requests and ordered each branch of the military to file a report every two weeks since January detailing the religious exemption requests they’ve received, granted and denied. The filings indicated that the DOD only granted a handful out of tens of thousands of requests, prompting Merryday to issue a scathing criticism.
Within the fist month of providing data to the court, the DOD admitted only four religious exemption requests had been granted out of nearly 29,000. By comparison, the DOD says it’s granted at least 3,449 medical exemption requests.
In one of the hearings, Liberty Counsel presented evidence of a claim made in January 2022 by one-star Brigadier General Paul Moga, the commandant of the Air Force Academy. At a cadet lunch meeting he said the Omicron variant presented “very little danger to the force,” according to the brief filed with the court.
It also points to Congressional testimony given in February 2021, six months before the DOD’s mandate was issued last August. Last February, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Director for Operations and two-star general, Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, said the U.S. military was “fully capable of operating in a COVID environment before vaccinations were available.”
At the hearing, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-AL, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, asked Taliaferro, “So I take that to mean yes, they’re deployable even if they have not been vaccinated?”
Taliaferro replied, “Yes, Sir.”
Evidence presented during a recent hearing also includes memos from March 2022 written to and from high-level military leaders. The memos related to approving mission critical travel for unvaccinated service members who they found had “no discernable negative impact” on military readiness.
Burke, for example, requested approval for certain unvaccinated service members to be eligible for mission essential travel and deployment. He argued the “assessed risk to force for co-mingling vaccinated and unvaccinated personnel is low.” Lt. Gen. Michael Howard approved his request, according to the filings.
Liberty Counsel also notes that the U.S. Marine Corps also changed its Quarantine and Isolation policy. Previously, the Marine Corps required COVID-positive Marines to quarantine from healthy Marines. Now it doesn’t. Those who test positive and those who don’t have the coronavirus reside in the same barracks and testing is no longer required.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver argues the service members have a strong case “and are being used as part of a purging of our military members who love God and love America.” There’s “no other logical or scientific explanation for the Department of Defense’s continued insistence on the shot mandate,” he said.
The DOD maintains the mandate is necessary for mission readiness and the health of the overall force.