The decision means the military cannot change the ranks or privileges of two servicemembers as a result of their decision to remain unvaccinated.
Federal Judge Steven Merryday’s decision on Friday comes just one week after hearing the lawsuit filed by a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and a U.S. Navy captain. This means the military cannot change either servicemembers’ ranks or privileges as a result of their decision to remain unvaccinated.
In Merryday’s decision, the judge wrote that “the Navy and the Marine Corps fail to ‘demonstrate’ the individualized ‘to the person’ analysis required when reviewing Navy Commander’s or Lieutenant Colonel 2’s request for a religious exemption. The defendants’ justifications for denying a religious accommodation to Navy Commander and Lieutenant Colonel 2 are elementally inadequate under [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”
The service members were represented by the Liberty Counsel, which is also representing about two dozen more military personnel across all five branches of the armed forces. The religious organization, which has historically advocated for evangelical Christian causes, is hoping the judge will further extend the injunction to apply to the thousands of other service members who have applied for religious exemptions.
Very few religious exemptions have been granted so far for American service members.
The two plaintiffs in this particular case had been scheduled to be disciplined earlier this month after their exemption appeals were denied by the Marines and Navy.
The federal government can appeal the decision if it so chooses.
10 Tampa Bay’s Courtney Robinson contributed to this report.