March 7, 2022 3:39pm
Updated: March 7, 2022 4:03pm
The Department of Defense on Monday asked the Supreme Court to allow the Pentagon to stop the deployment of unvaccinated Navy SEALs after a lower court ruled that the government did not have a right to do so.
The request comes after a ruling in January from a Texas judge who determined that the Pentagon could not refuse to deploy SEALs who do not comply with the department's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The next month the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to not block the Texas judge's order.
In the 42-page filing, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin argued that by not receiving the vaccine, SEALs were put at a higher risk of needing "medical evacuation" and it could "impair the ability to safely and effectively work."
The department also noted that from 2015 to 2021, the Navy recieved 83 religious exemption requests for vaccines. Since the COVID-19 vaccination, the Navy has received more than 4,000 religious exemption requests.
While the SEALs argued that the vaccine requirement infringed upon their First Amendment rights, the Defense Department argued that there is no "legitimate public interest in denying" the government's request.
The lower court's ruling " usurps the Navy’s authority to decide which servicemembers should be deployed to execute some of the military’s most sensitive and dangerous missions," the government argued.
The original court filing named President Joe Biden, and included 26 Navy SEALs who were challenging the vaccine mandate on religious grounds.
Judge Reed O'Connor, a Bush Appointee, granted the unvaccinated service members' request to still be deployed. He said that their "loss of religious liberties outweighs any forthcoming harm to the Navy."
He noted that Navy service members testified that they had faced retaliation because they sought religious exemptions from vaccination, including one who claimed to have been denied treatment for a traumatic brain injury due to vaccination status.
Less than an hour after receiving the Defense Department's filing, the Supreme Court requested the challengers to file a response within the week