22 state AGs challenge Navy vaccine mandate on religious grounds

by Jacob Fuller

Trey Paul, FISM News


Attorneys general in 22 states have formed a coalition to support the religious liberties of Navy servicemembers attempting to receive exemptions to President Joe Biden’s continued vaccine mandate on members of the U.S. military.

The AGs of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and New Hampshire all signed an amicus brief which was filed Monday with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The brief noted there’s an ongoing battle between overreaching government mandates and the right to make your own choices based on your religious beliefs:

“But even when government interests are compelling, religious exercise demands respect, too. The amici States have a powerful interest in holding true the balance between pursuing important state interests and protecting sincerely held religious beliefs. Respect for policymakers’ judgments should not be permitted to mask abuse of religious freedom.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the court filing is in support of the religious liberty of Navy SEALs and other U.S. Navy personnel seeking exemptions from the Biden administration’s continuing pursuit of universal COVID-19 vaccination.

“We are asking the court to recognize the religious liberties these sailors enjoy in their decision not to get vaccinated. These brave men and women routinely put their lives on the line, and we should trust in their individual decisions — and not rely on unlawful mandates from this administration,” Morrisey said.

The brief also acknowledged the attorneys general’s qualifications to write about this issue.

The amici States have still further experience of special relevance to this case. For years now, amici have managed the COVID-19 pandemic in their own borders. Amici have seen what works in managing COVID19, what does not work, and how fundamental freedoms — such as religious exercise — can flourish even in a pandemic. And over the past year, amici have challenged many of the federal government’s major policies addressing the pandemic.

According to a summary posted by the West Virginia Attorney General’s office, the Biden administration is asking the court to give the military extraordinary deference in its decision to direct compliance with the vaccine mandate, even overriding fundamental freedoms.

Morrisey says attorneys general argue that states have managed to balance fundamental freedoms and sensitive state interests during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the words and actions of the administration have demonstrated that its demand for deference is met with skepticism.

“Deference to military authorities makes sense when those authorities’ judgments reflect trustworthy, non-political assessments of sensitive matters within their unique expertise,” according to the amicus brief that was filed. “But policymakers can, through their actions, erode those assumptions and the deference that might otherwise be due.”

In July, U.S. District Judge Matthew McFarland, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, entered a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio barring the Air Force from disciplining airmen seeking religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate.

Data from the U.S. Department of Defense shows that of the 105,277 reported COVID cases within the U.S. Navy, only 17 deaths and one hospitalization have occurred. However, only 47 religious accommodation requests have been approved and 4,251 requests remain pending, according to the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

Morrisey said all 47 of the approvals occurred after this case was filed and met with criticism from the federal judiciary.