Tampa Judge Denies Federal Request In Battle Over 2 Service Members Who Refused COVID Shot

The Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and Navy captain are claiming religious exceptions from the military mandate.

TAMPA, Fla — A Tampa judge on Wednesday denied the U.S. Department of Defense’s request to halt a preliminary injunction he granted on Feb. 18 for two service members who are claiming religious exemptions from the military’s vaccine mandate.

On Feb. 28, the DOD submitted an emergency motion asking for a stay of the injunction, which prevents the military from changing the rank or privileges of either service member for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Judge Steven Merryday has scheduled a new evidentiary hearing for 10 a.m. on March 10. It will be held at the U.S. Courthouse in Tampa. Meanwhile, the DOD is considering elevating the issue to the U.S. 11th Court of Appeals.

The two service members at the center of the debate are a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and a Navy captain. They’d been scheduled to be disciplined after the military initially denied their requests for exemptions. But, with the issue now in the court system, any potential future disciplinary action is on hold.

Both the lieutenant colonel and the captain are being 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 preliminary 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.

10 Tampa Bay’s Courtney Robinson contributed to this report.

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