Judge blocks military from discharging unvaccinated Marines

Marine Corps Cpl. Landon Johnson, a rifleman with the Silent Drill Platoon, performs during a halftime show at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Nov. 11, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Lambert)
Marine Corps Cpl. Landon Johnson, a rifleman with the Silent Drill Platoon, performs during a halftime show at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Nov. 11, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Lambert)

A federal judge has temporarily halted the discharge of hundreds of Marines who were denied religious exemptions from the military’s requirement that they receive the experimental COVID-19 vaccine shots, which have not prevented infection and the spread of the virus as promised.

U.S. District Judge Steve Merryday, a George. H.W. Bush appointee, ruled Thursday that the Marines have failed to adhere to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Epoch Times reported.

And significantly, he ruled a class action for any Marine affirmed by a chaplain as having a sincere religious objection who filed for an exemption on time and was denied.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the federal government to prove it has a compelling interest requires in a certain action and that there are no less restrictive alternatives.

Many of the Marines argued that chaplains determined they held sincere religious beliefs and the military did not present compelling reasons for them to get vaccinated.

None of the exemption denials, the judge said, demonstrated that “accommodating a particular applicant will meaningfully impede the health and readiness of the 95% vaccinated force or meaningfully impede the military’s operations and duties.”

Only 11 requests for religious accommodation had been approved by Aug. 4 after none had been approved before February.

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The judge emphasized that the Marines failed to consider the circumstances for each applicant. And the branch relied on data largely from 2020 and 2021, which was before the relatively mild and vaccine-evasive omicron variant emerged.

Mat Staver, chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement the Defense Department “has relentlessly violated the law and ignored their religious freedom.”

“Today, that lawlessness ends,” he said.

The branch has discharged a total of 3,299 Marines for refusing to get a vaccine. Some Marines have asked for a medical exemption.

Judge Merryday wrote that the treatment of the exemption requests signals that “the class of religiously objecting Marines is substantially likely to prevail on the merits of their claim that the Marines never received a fair and particularized evaluation ‘to the person,'”

“Because the record reveals the substantial likelihood of a systemic failure by the Marine Corps to discharge the obligations established by RFRA, a classwide preliminary injunction is warranted to preserve the status quo, to permit the full development of the record without prejudice to the plaintiffs, and to permit both a trial and a detailed, fact-based resolution of the controlling issues of fact and law,” he ruled.

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