Liberty Counsel Returns to Court in Military Case

Mar 10, 2022

TAMPA, FL — Liberty Counsel is back in court today before Judge Steven Merryday in the military class action case, Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin. Prior to the hearing, Liberty Counsel filed opposition to the defendants’ emergency motion for a stay pending appeal and for immediate administrative stay. The judge set an evidential hearing for today. On Tuesday this week, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the military defendants advised the court it will not bring any witnesses. The Department of Defense counsel refused to produce the Commodore of the Navy to be subjected to cross-examination.

Liberty Counsel intends to present testimony from one or both of the plaintiffs who are protected by the preliminary injunction. Liberty Counsel also intends to present testimony of three U.S. Army flight surgeons, one of whom was injured by the COVID shots. On the evening before the hearing, one of the witnesses was counseled by a superior to not testify. The bullying of those who apply for religious exemption and even plaintiffs and witnesses is unprecedented.

The DOD, led by Secretary Lloyd Austin, and other defendants in the case filed a motion at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals requesting an immediate stay when Judge Merryday denied their request for the federal district court to stay the preliminary injunction granted for two of Liberty Counsel’s plaintiffs from the shot mandates. The court declined to issue an immediate stay and gave the plaintiffs until March 14 to file their response.

The plaintiffs’ response stated the defendants were “rebuffed in their attempts” to get an immediate stay or expedited consideration in the Eleventh Circuit. Liberty Counsel’s response continued: “Defendants now want to avoid finishing what they started in this Court, notifying the Court today that they waive both evidence and oral argument in support of their motion and suggesting the hearing be canceled. Defendants obviously want to lose their stay motion in this Court—and they should.”

The response also notes that the defendants are relying on “stale and inaccurate” medical evidence. The defendants’ declarations “contain stale, generalized numbers that do not address the specifics of any Plaintiff’s religious accommodation request.” The evidence the defendants have presented does not answer how the military addresses the plaintiffs’ rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Liberty Counsel’s response also shows that the Navy itself has admitted that Omicron is not impacting operations, according to a Navy Times article.

Navy Vice Admiral William Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, was quoted as saying, “‘So, it’s coming and going all the time, very small numbers, and really no operational impact. … And the teams are just very, very attuned to watching their indications and reacting to it.’”

Liberty Counsel argued, “In the absence of any operational impact on the Navy from COVID-19 in January, despite the ongoing service of thousands of unvaccinated sailors, Defendants cannot argue that allowing any Plaintiff to continue serving without vaccination will have an operational impact.”

The military has adopted a “blanket policy of nondeployability of unvaccinated service members whereby it “can feign individualized denials of religious accommodation requests,” Liberty Counsel’s response states.

“The military’s claiming ‘lost confidence’ in service members for no other reason than their “disobeying” a final shot order pursuant to a federal court injunction vindicating their free exercise rights amounts to a military coup d'état against the coequal branches of the United States Government that enacted and interpreted RFRA according to their respective constitutional authorities.”

Liberty Counsel has been providing legal assistance to more than 700 service members from the Army, Air Force, Space Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Liberty Counsel maintains an internal “Service Member Final Denial List” for service members who have contacted Liberty Counsel and whose final Religious Accommodation Request appeals have been denied. Based on this list alone, the U.S. military will continue to lose highly qualified and experienced personnel.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Liberty Counsel represents plaintiffs from all branches of the military who were denied religious exemptions from the COVID shot mandate. The military has violated the Constitution and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act with this unlawful COVID shot mandate. The abuse of military heroes is inhumane and unlawful. The Department of Defense acts likes it is above the law. This abuse and unlawful action must end.”

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