(Washington, D.C.) – Four members of the U.S. Navy’s elite Sea, Air, and Land Teams, commonly known as Navy SEALs, have filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.), challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate. The four SEALs, all devout Christian men, object to the mandate on religious grounds.
SEALs are the U.S. Navy’s primary special operations force, and they are a component of the Naval Special Warfare Command. The four SEALs are represented by the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC).
Prior to filing the lawsuit, AFLC had to file a special motion with the court, requesting that the plaintiff service members be permitted to proceed pseudonymously (i.e., proceed in the case using the pseudonym Navy SEAL rather than their actual names). As set forth in that motion, these men participate in classified military operations and, consequently, are properly concerned that disclosure of their names would place them and their families in grave danger, along with other members of the special operations forces and their families, as well as compromise national security interests. The chief judge granted the motion, clearing the way for the filing of the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges that the vaccine mandate violates the rights of the Navy SEALs protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise commented:
“As a former infantry officer who served 13 years on active duty in the Marine Corps, I understand the sacrifices that our service members make each and every day in defense of our nation. And Navy SEALs are a special breed. Our clients regularly face death and suffer many hardships fighting our nation’s enemies around the globe. They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms. Sadly, they must now file this federal lawsuit to defend their freedoms—freedoms which they too possess as American citizens.
It is simply disgraceful the way in which the Biden administration and his senior military leaders are treating these fine men, who now face criminal prosecution, loss of pay and benefits, and separation from the armed services because they object on religious grounds to a vaccine that we all know doesn’t work.”
As set forth in the Complaint filed in this case:
Plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs prevent them from receiving any of the current COVID-19 vaccines.
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Plaintiffs’ faith teaches that they must obey their consciences in all matters. Forcing Plaintiffs to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or suffer adverse consequences, including, but not limited to, prosecution and criminal penalties, discharge from the military, removal from special warfare operations, adverse fitness reports, loss of pay and benefits, loss of education and training opportunities, and loss of personal decorations and insignia, specifically including the Special Warfare / SEAL Trident insignia, places a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ exercise of their religion.
RFRA, which protects service members as well as civilians, prohibits the federal government from placing a “substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion.”
To justify a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion under RFRA, the government must demonstrate that the challenged action is “(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” The government’s burden is a heavy one.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi added:
“Under RFRA, the government must satisfy strict scrutiny, which is the most demanding test known to constitutional law. In this case, there is no basis for the government to force healthy young men, who not only have natural immunities to COVID but are of the demographic least susceptible to any serious health risks, to get an experimental vaccine that itself poses serious health risks. And this is particularly true now where the pandemic is essentially over.
The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is unlawful, and it is making us less secure as a nation. This incompetent administration is willing to sacrifice these fine men for purely political reasons, and Biden is doing so now when the world is a far less safe place. We need more fighting men like these Navy SEALs and less woke military leaders if this nation is going to ultimately survive the many crises looming on the horizon.”