TAMPA, Fla. — On Thursday morning, a federal judge in Tampa will hear a lawsuit against the military’s vaccine mandate.
Last Wednesday, a U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and a U.S. Navy Captain were granted a temporary injunction barring the military from discharging them for not getting the COVID vaccine.
Both applied for religious exemptions.
They’re represented by Liberty Counsel. The Christian organization argues thousands of military men and women are being discriminated against for seeking religious exemptions to the vaccine.
Mat Staver is the founder and chair of Liberty Counsel. He says these individuals signed up to serve their country and should be allowed to do so without penalty.
“I think there’s a very clear indication that there’s discrimination taking place because on the one hand we see thousands of these medical exemptions that are granted, these individuals have no restrictions. And then on the other hand we see thousands and tens of thousands, frankly, of religious exemptions that are being denied across the board,” he said.
According to Staver, at least 24,000 have claimed religious exemptions, and roughly 11,000 have been denied.
The judge will decide on these two specific service members and whether to extend that order allowing them to be religiously exempt from the vaccine.
Staver says the ruling could have an impact on the greater military as their goal is to get this injunction extended to all military members who claim religious exemptions.
If denied, Liberty Counsel is already planning to appeal to the 11th Circuit Court and – if needed – the Supreme Court.
There have been religious exemptions granted.
The Air Force says it granted its first round of religious exemptions to roughly nine airmen. The Marine Corps has granted three.
Military leaders have maintained they believe getting as many service members vaccinated as possible is a high priority to ensure our military is prepared for anything.
"Get the vaccine because it’s the best way to protect themselves and their units. That’s the readiness concern — getting the vaccination rate as close to 100 percent as possible," Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said in December.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: The two service members were initially identified as Navy SEALS. They have now been correctly identified as a U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and a U.S. Navy Captain.