Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden: One Year Later

Oct 28, 2022

On October 15, 2021, Liberty Counsel filed a historic, monumental lawsuit against the Biden administration, the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the respective military branches in a class action lawsuit on behalf of members from all branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marines and Coast Guard), federal employees and federal civilian contractors.

These Americans were unlawfully mandated to get the COVID shots or face dishonorable discharge from the military or termination from employment. Liberty Counsel is holding the Biden administration accountable to comply with the law, namely the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment, both which protect the right to decline the shot based on the free exercise of religion.

Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden set national precedent against the discriminatory COVID shot mandates, emboldening other military plaintiffs nationwide to follow suit. Additional lawsuits were filed across America, with some, including ours, yielding crucial temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions for both individual plaintiffs and entire classes of the military.

On May 24, 2022, Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin (formerly Biden) was divided and filed as separate cases for the branches of service members.

One year after filing our case, classwide preliminary injunctions now protect the Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Liberty Counsel’s most recent victory — the Marines. Discovery and depositions are underway, and a trial date for the Marines is set for mid-January. In mid-December, Liberty Counsel will present oral argument at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals defending the initial preliminary injunctions obtained for a lieutenant colonel in the Marines and a commander of a Navy Warship.

The class certification for the Coast Guard is pending and the Army will soon be considered by the federal court. Thankfully, Congress is also stepping in. On October 19, 2022, House Oversight Committee Republicans sent a letter to the Coast Guard commandant, Admiral Linda Fagan, demanding the Coast Guard explain the process for reviewing religious accommodation request applications for the COVID shot mandate.

In June 2022, months before the House Oversight Committee Republicans sent their letter to Adm. Fagan, the Acting Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) Sean O'Donnell raised a similar question. In a memo sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, O’Donnell was investigating the DOD’s “potential noncompliance with standards for reviewing and documenting the denial of religious accommodation requests of Service members.” O’Donnell’s office received “dozens of complaints regarding denied religious accommodation requests from Service members” and a “trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies.”

As for federal contractors and federal employees, shot mandates are not currently being enforced. On August 31, 2022, the Biden administration updated its Safer Workforce Task Force guidance to say it will take no action to enforce EO 14042 (vaccine/testing mandate). On October 14, 2022, the Office of Management and Budget and Safer Federal Workforce Task Force instructed federal agencies to not enforce clauses implementing the mandate and wait for further instructions.

Regarding federal employees, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit ruled 2-1 to lift the nationwide injunction and uphold the Biden requirement, overturning a Texas judge on April 7, 2022. Now, the federal employee vax mandate case is in a holding pattern, waiting for an en banc rehearing before all 16 judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Until the case is heard, the court has stayed the mandate and further delayed the Biden administration from taking action on noncompliant employees. There is no indication when the court would rule.

Liberty Counsel is committed to staying the course until religious freedom is restored and victory over unlawful shot mandates is secured for every service member, federal contractor and federal employee. Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Biden administration and the Department of Defense are violating federal law by denying the religious free exercise rights of service members from the COVID shot mandate. Our service members swear an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution. Their oath to defend the Constitution and their willingness to give their lives for our freedom must not be illusory. The abuse must end.”

To read the full timeline of Navy SEAL v. Austin, click here.

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