Navy quietly rescinds order punishing SEALs for religious exemptions to COVID vax mandate

"Now that the Navy has rescinded this unlawful order, the only reason it won't allow our SEALs to get back to doing their jobs is because of their religious beliefs," said First Liberty's Senior Counsel Mike Berry

Updated: September 13, 2022 - 4:09pm

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The Navy quietly rescinded an order to punish SEALs who sought religious exemptions to the military's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, recent court documents state.

On Sept. 24, 2021, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Lescher issued "Trident Order #12," which disqualified SEALs who sought religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine mandate from traveling for deployment, training, and conducting other standard business. According to the order, all special warfare forces were to initially comply with the vaccine mandate by mid-October 2021.

SEALs who refused "to receive recommended vaccines based solely on personal or religious beliefs" were "medically disqualified," and thus, "non-deployable."

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals placed the order on hold by issuing a preliminary injunction against it early this year in a lawsuit by 35 active-duty SEALs and three reservists who sought religious exemptions to the mandate.

A new filing in the lawsuit states that the order was quietly rescinded by the Navy on May 22, 2022, according to Fox News. However, the legal team representing the SEALs didn't learn of it until Sept. 1, over three months later.

A communication order on May 23 regarding the rescinded order said that Navy commands "will continue to follow guidance, as appropriate, regarding COVID-19 vaccination, accommodation requests, and mitigation measures."

It is not clear if the order has been replaced or what the reasoning behind rescinding it was, as the Navy declined to comment on ongoing litigation, Fox News reported.

"To the best of counsel's knowledge, Trident Order #12 was not replaced," the SEALs' legal team wrote in a new filing. "As the Court will recall, Trident Order #12 stated that SEALs who are unvaccinated due to religious beliefs are medically disqualified, though SEALs who are unvaccinated due to medical reasons are not automatically disqualified. Trident Order #12 also implemented the COVID-19 vaccine mandate at the command level for Naval Special Warfare forces, setting a deadline of compliance for October 17, 2021.

"A copy of the order rescinding Trident Order #12 is attached to this letter. The rescission of Trident Order # 12 does not appear to affect the applicability of Navy or DoD-wide vaccine policies to NSW personnel—it just appears to remove the command-level direction."

The lawsuit has been extended into a class action lawsuit for all Navy service members seeking religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

First Liberty's Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry, who represents the SEALs in the lawsuit, told Fox News, "Now that the Navy has rescinded this unlawful order, the only reason it won't allow our SEALs to get back to doing their jobs is because of their religious beliefs."

"America faces many national security threats, and the Navy is suffering a historic recruiting crisis. There's no good reason to keep these trained and experienced warriors from serving," he added.