COVID vaccine mandates are causing conflicts everywhere, from airlines to law enforcement. The latest vaccine battleground is the U.S. military, which is threatening discharge for troops that do not get the COVID-19 shot. In particular, the Navy is denying exemptions for religious reasons or for those with natural immunity who have already had the virus.
Among service branches, the Navy has the highest COVID vaccination rate at 90%, while the Marines have the lowest at 76% as of last week. That leaves hundreds of thousands of troops unvaccinated and potentially facing discharge. Some are now fighting back. "We've been told the Navy does not intend to grant any religious exemptions, and that if (sailors') exemptions are denied they will be separated and kicked out of the Navy," says Mike Berry, General Counsel at First Liberty Institute, which represents several sailors who are claiming religious exemptions.
Berry tells KTRH these sailors are fighting for their religious freedom. "(Military leaders) don't want anybody in the military to ask for a religious exemption, and if anyone does ask for a religious exemption, they want them to be kicked out," he says. "I don't think this is anything other than overt religious hostility."
Beyond the implications for personal and religious freedom, enforcing these vaccine mandates and potentially discharging thousands of service members could devastate military readiness. "Collectively, our clients have over 350 years of combined military service, they have over 100 combat deployments," says Berry. "And these are the guys they want to take out of service?"
"At a time when China is launching hypersonic weapons around the world, and when Iran is trying to create a nuclear weapon, we need every able person into the fight that we can get to defend our nation and our national security," Berry continues. "But the Pentagon is all too willing to kick them out, and that is just absolutely absurd, if you ask me."