Army Plaintiffs Receive Relief From Shot Mandate

Dec 22, 2022

SAN ANGELO, TX – Texas District Court Judge James Wesley Hendrix granted a preliminary injunction for six Army soldiers and four Army West Point cadets who were denied their religious accommodations from the COVID-19 shot mandate. 

The U.S. Army is now prohibited from taking any disciplinary, punitive or separation measures against any of these service members. 

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in October 2022 stating that the Army violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) and the First Amendment by denying their religious accommodation requests from its mandatory COVID-19 shot mandate, while simultaneously granting medical and administrative exemptions. Each plaintiff had requested an exemption to the Army’s shot mandate due to their sincerely held religious beliefs that oppose the COVID injections that are all associated with aborted fetal cell lines. 

Judge Hendrix referenced President George Washington in his order when he wrote, “Our first commander in chief cautioned that ‘[w]hile we are Contending for our own Liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the Rights of Conscience in others.’ Letter from George Washington to Colonel Benedict Arnold (Sept. 14, 1775), in THE PAPERS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1 REVOLUTIONARY WAR SERIES 455–56 (1985). And since the Revolutionary War, religion has played a key role in our country’s military. ‘When the Continental Army was formed[,] those chaplains attached to the militia of the 13 colonies became part of our country’s first national army.’ Congress specifically authorized and required chaplains to be part of the Army. ‘The great majority of the soldiers in the Army express religious preferences,’ and ‘its members experience increased needs for religion as the result of being uprooted from their home environments, transported often thousands of miles to territories entirely strange to them, and confronted there with new stresses that would not otherwise have been encountered if they had remained at home.’ Our Constitution ‘obligates Congress, upon creating an Army, to make religion available to soldiers’ because the Army must not ‘deprive the soldier of his right under the Establishment Clause not to have religion inhibited and of his right under the Free Exercise Clause to practice his freely chosen religion.’” 

“The Army does not dispute this history or its ongoing obligation to accommodate its soldiers’ religious freedom, including compliance with RFRA. But it has failed to prove that its ongoing imposition of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which indisputably burdens some soldiers’ sincerely held religious beliefs, serves a compelling interest through the least restrictive means available. As a result, the Army must retreat from imposing its mandate in this particular field and permit religious exemptions to these Plaintiffs,” the court wrote.

Judge Hendrix also noted that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their RFRA claim. 

“The Court finds that the plaintiffs have shown a substantial likelihood of success on their RFRA claim. The plaintiffs have met their burden of demonstrating the sincerity of their religious beliefs and the substantial burden imposed by the vaccine mandate on their religious exercise. But the defendants have not met their burden of demonstrating a compelling governmental interest in burdening the plaintiffs’ religious exercise or that the vaccine mandate is the least restrictive means to achieve that interest. Because the defendants cannot satisfy strict scrutiny, the plaintiffs are likely to prevail.” 

Before the military COVID shot mandate was issued on August 24, 2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued a religious accommodation request (RAR) policy related to immunization. Applying this RAR policy to the COVID-19 shot mandate, it is clear that the DOD and the military branches violate the RFRA. Under RFRA, the military must satisfy the compelling interest and least restrictive means test to the person. Multiple courts have indicated the military violates this stringent requirement of RFRA by refusing to examine each service member individually. Instead, the military issues generalized statements to justify the mandate. Since this RAR policy applies to all immunizations, not just COVID-19, the policy must be enjoined and the DOD must comply with RFRA.

Even though Congress recently passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that rescinds the military's COVID shot mandate, the Department of Defense must be permanently enjoined from retaliating against the service members who submitted a request for religious accommodation, and all service members who were punished, demoted or discharged must be reinstated and their records corrected. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The Army, like every other branch of the military, is unlawfully denying religious exemptions. The Commander in Chief has disrespected our service members with this shot mandate. Fortunately, the courts continue to rebuff the lawless acts of Joe Biden and the Department of Defense who must be stopped from ever violating the religious freedom rights of all service members. Service members have been punished, demoted, and discharged for merely requesting religious accommodation. They must be reinstated and their records cleared.” 

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