U.S. military leaders are facing a showdown with thousands of active duty troops who have refused the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Some 10,000 Marines and 10,000 Air Force personnel remain unvaccinated, after the vaccine deadline passed this month. Exact numbers aren't available for the Army and Navy, but they are believed to be in the thousands as well. The Army's vaccine deadline is coming December 15.
The military has threatened to discharge those who don't comply with the vaccine mandate, but hasn't said exactly how or when members would be removed. Recently, the Navy secretary only said that nobody would be kicked out on the "day of the deadline itself."
Mike Berry, General Counsel at the First Liberty Institute, represents several Navy SEALS who have refused the vaccine for religious purposes. "The vast majority of the people (in the military) who are objecting to the vaccine have gone on record saying they object for sincere religious reasons," he says. "By admitting they haven't granted a single religious exemption from the vaccine, I think (the Pentagon) is just showing blatant and outright religious hostility."
Berry tells KTRH the Biden administration has yet to respond to First Liberty's lawsuit, but he hopes the passing of the vaccine deadlines will force the government's hand. "The ball is squarely in the Department of Defense's court," he says. "And I think the nation is interested to see whether they really are going to force service members to choose between their faith and serving their country."
If the military follows through on threats to discharge tens of thousands of members, it could have dangerous consequences for readiness and national security. "(The military) is not here to be some sort of social experiment, it's here to defend the nation," says Berry. "And the best way to defend the nation is to ensure that every able-bodied person who wants to be in the military is able to serve, and defend us, and defend our freedoms."