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As services deny mandate exemptions en masse, Guard seeks reservists to meet new litigation demands

A federal judge on Sunday ordered the Navy, Marines and Air Force to provide voluminous records documenting their denials of vaccine mandate religious accommodation requests.

Published: February 14, 2022 7:35pm

Updated: February 15, 2022 10:39pm

As the military defends the strict enforcement of its sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate in court, it is experiencing a shortage in the specialized personnel needed to meet its expanded legal workload.

With the services denying requests for religious exemptions from the mandate en masse and discharging service members for refusing to take the COVID shots, the Air National Guard is now seeking to activate reserve military lawyers to cope with exploding litigation demands.

Meanwhile, in the case of Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden, a federal judge on Sunday ordered the Navy, Marines and Air Force to provide voluminous records documenting their handling of vaccine mandate religious accommodation requests.

The Air National Guard assistant to the general counsel for the National Guard Bureau sent out an announcement earlier this month seeking volunteers from the National Guard JAGs, who are part-time, to receive full-time orders as active duty for operational support (ADOS) until September 2022, with the possibility of an extension.

In the email that included the announcement, the Air National Guard assistant to the general counsel wrote, "If you are interested in working at the forefront of vaccine and other national-level NG litigation, this is the position for you!”

ADOS is usually reserved for contingency operations, such as when the military needed volunteers for Iraq or Afghanistan, and to support military commissions, explained attorney Davis Younts, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves who is representing some of the plaintiffs as a civilian in Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden.

The activation of reserve military lawyers "[s]eems like a significant waste of taxpayer money and limited military resources given the state of the pandemic," Younts told Just the News.

Service members in Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden are suing in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa to block the military's COVID vaccine mandate following what they claim have been blanket denials of their religious accommodation requests.

Judge Steven Merryday had previously ordered all the military branches to file a detailed report on religious exemptions every 14 days starting on Jan. 7.

"According to the defendants' third notice of compliance," the judge reported in his order Sunday, "the Navy has denied 81 appeals and granted none, the Marine Corps has denied 119 appeals and granted 3, and the Air Force has denied 443 appeals and granted 1 appeal (and granted 8 initial requests). According to the notice, neither the Army nor the Coast Guard has resolved an appeal."

The court issued a deadline of Feb. 16 for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and codefendants to "file for each of the Navy, Marines and Air Force (1) each letter or memorandum granting a religious exemption (whether granted initially or after appeal), (2) the twenty-five most recent denials after appeal and the underlying denial of the initial request, and (3) for each grant or denial the service member's initial request and the service member's letter beginning the appeal."

Liberty Counsel, a Christian conservative public interest law firm, is representing plaintiffs in the case, who, the nonprofit argues, "have been unlawfully mandated to get the COVID shots or face punishment and discharge from the military or termination from employment."

"The court continues to unfold evidence that the military branches are discriminating against the religious freedom of our military heroes," Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said Sunday. "We look forward to finally putting an end to this abuse of the law and of our military personnel."

 

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