Judge Reed O’Connor’s opening is being widely quoted and it deserves it to be.
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms.”
But his decision actually digs into how blatantly the system is being rigged to deny religious exemptions to Navy SEALs and other special forces personnel.
“For servicemembers assigned to Special Operations duty, the Navy’s vaccination policy reads: [Special Operations] personnel refusing to receive recommended vaccines . . . based solely on personal or religious beliefs are disqualified. This provision does not pertain to medical contraindications or allergies to vaccine administration.”
The degree to which the process is rigged makes it legally perilous. There’s supposed to be at least a pretense of taking the process seriously, but the Navy under Biden isn’t even going through the motions.
“Several Plaintiffs have been directly told by their chains of command that “the senior leadership of Naval Special Warfare has no patience or tolerance for service members who refuse COVID-19 vaccination for religious reasons and wants them out of the SEAL community.”
The process for a waiver is Kafkaesque.
“The Navy uses a fifty-step process to adjudicate religious accommodation requests. Under the standard operating procedures for the process, the first fifteen steps require an administrator to update a prepared disapproval template with the requester’s name and rank. In essence, the Plaintiffs’ requests are denied the moment they begin. That prepared letter is then sent to seven offices for review. After those offices review the disapproval letter, the administrator packages the letter with other religious accommodation requests for final signature. The administrator then prepares an internal memo to Vice Admiral John Nowell, asking him to “sign . . . letters disapproving immunization waiver requests based on sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“Then, at step thirty-five of the process, the administrator is told—for the first time—to read through the religious accommodation request. At that point, the disapproval letter has already been written, the religious accommodation request and related documents has already been reviewed by several offices, the disapproval has already been packaged with similar requests, and an internal memo has already been drafted requesting that Vice Admiral Nowell disapprove the religious accommodation request. . The administrator is then tasked with reading the request and recording any pertinent information in a spreadsheet. At no point in the process is the administrator given the opportunity to recommend anything other than disapproval. The materials are then sent to Vice Admiral Nowell. The entire process belies the manual’s assertion that “[e]ach request is evaluated on a case by case basis.”
It’s hard to describe this as anything other than a farce.
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