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Florida Judge Grants Marines Religious Exemption to DOD COVID Vaccine Mandate

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: August 24, 2022
A Florida Judge granted an injunction to Marine Corps with religious beliefs against the DOD's mandatory COVID vaccination policy
A member of the U.S. Marine Corps wears a mask during the Pacific Amphibious Leaders Symposium 2022 (PALS 22) in Japan on June 16, 2022. A Florida U.S. District Court Judge granted an injunction upholding Marines who objected to COVID-19 vaccine mandates on religious grounds. (Image: PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

A Florida judge has granted Marines who objected to taking the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines on the basis of their religious beliefs an exemption from the Biden Administration’s Department of Defense mandatory injection policy.

On Aug. 19, Liberty Counsel, attorneys for the Plaintiffs, shared the win in a press release, stating that U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday had granted the injunction preventing the DOD from enforcing its vaccine mandate against certain members of the Armed Forces denoted in the class action lawsuit.

The case is Colonel Financial Management Officer et al. v. Lloyd Austin.

The class members the ruling is applicable to are broken down roughly as follows:

  • Members of the U.S. Marine Corps
  • Those “affirmed by a chaplain as harboring a sincere religious objection”
  • Who “timely submitted an initial request for a religious accommodation”
  • Had their request denied
  • Appealed the denial
  • Had their appeal denied

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of the law firm, was pleased with the ruling, stating, “Our courageous U.S. Marines finally have relief from these unlawful COVID shot mandates…These brave service members have been abused and mistreated because of their faith.”

Staver added, “They have faced discharge, court martial, other life-altering disciplinary procedures, and termination for simply embracing their religious freedom to choose not the [sic] inject a substance into their bodies.”

And concluded, “The Department of Defense has relentlessly violated the law and ignored their religious freedom. Today, that lawlessness ends…The Biden administration and the Department of Defense are not above the law.”

In the 48-page injunction, Judge Merryday did not come across as particularly pleased with the DOD’s conduct towards Marines who harbor faith-based objections to the vaccines.

Merryday noted in his ruling’s preamble that based on DOD documents provided during litigation, that although 3,733 Marines requested an exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “The Marine Corps has granted only eleven accommodations, less than three-tenths of a percent (0.295%) of the 3,733 applications.”

“The record presents no successful applicant other than a few who are due for retirement and prompt separation,” the Judge added.

On the topic, Merryday was not finished with only a few terse comments.

His rebuttal was, instead, verbose.

“The pertinent history in this action reports that not for one Marine in continuing service (of course, a token one or five or ten Marines among the 3,733 applicants would not change the case) — not for one bookkeeper or for one inventory manager; not for one data analyst; not for one ‘jarhead’ who served abroad ‘in harm’s way’ throughout 2020 and 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic but without vaccination; not for a single Marine, no matter how young, strong, or gloriously healthy and not even if the Marine already contracted COVID-19 and recovered without material consequence — in not one case has the Marine Corps agreed to allow any accommodation, including any already-proven-successful health and safety protocol, to reasonably accommodate both the health and readiness of the Marine Corps and the sincere religious belief of a fellow Marine.”

Judge Merryday asked simply, “What to make of that?”

In the Background section of the ruling, the Judge summarized additional details presented during the course of litigation, “The submission confirms that the Marine Corps grants religious accommodations only to the rare applicant both eligible to, and electing to, retire.” 

“In the instance of all other applicants, the Marine Corps in denying each appeal relies on an almost identical letter, a template, a form rejection,” the Judge stated. 

“In denying the appeals, the letter invariably finds — even if the chaplain affirms the sincerity of the religious objection to the COVID-19 vaccine — that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement imposes no ‘substantial burden’ on the applicant’s Free Exercise.”

The DOD form letter’s notion harkens back to a similar one echoed by a Pfizer executive in internal emails leaked to the public in 2021.

In that instance, a production employee took an email chain between company executives she discovered sitting in plain sight on the company’s intranet to investigative journalist team Project Veritas, which confirmed the usage of human embryonic kidney cell lines harvested from an aborted fetus in the production of their mRNA gene therapy injections.

In the chain, Philip Dormitzer, Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of Viral Vaccines, admitted during the internal discussion on how to answer public-facing questions on the sensitive abortion tissue subject that, “HEK293T [Human Embryonic Kidney] cells, used for the IVE assay, are ultimately derived from an aborted fetus.”

Dormitzer immediately brushed off the significance of the matter, however, stating, “On the other had, the Vatican doctrinal committee has confirmed that they consider it acceptable for Pro-Life believers to be immunized.”

And added, “Pfizer’s official statement couches the answer well and is what should be provided in response to an outside inquiry.”

The victory for Marines is adding to a pattern of legal victories against vaccine mandates that may be forming both legal precedent and a societal trend.

At the end of July, a class action lawsuit against NorthShore University HealthSystem in Illinois by employees who were either terminated or had to consent to taking the injection under the hospital network’s mandatory COVID vaccination policy resulted in a $10.3 million settlement win for the Plaintiffs.