Commentary

Court Checks Navy's Anti-Religious COVID Bias

By Bill Donohue | March 2, 2022 | 1:52pm EST
Lady Justice holds her scales. (Photo credit: LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)
Lady Justice holds her scales. (Photo credit: LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)

In recent years, the armed forces has done a very poor job protecting the religious liberties of men and women in uniform. When it comes to granting religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccination, the Army and the Navy have the worst record. The good news is that the Navy got its anti-religious bias checked Monday by a federal court of appeals.

There have been approximately 16,000 requests by members of the armed forces for a religious exemption from the vaccine, a mere 15 of which have been approved. The Air Force has approved nine of them; the Marines have granted six. No one in the Army or Navy has been approved.

Regarding the Navy's flat-out denial of religious exemptions for anyone,  the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that "Defendants have not demonstrated 'paramount interests' that justify vaccinating these 35 plaintiffs [which include Navy SEALs] against COVID-19 in violation of their religious beliefs." More than 99% of active-duty members of the Navy have been vaccinated. 

It is not as though the Navy does not believe in exemptions from the vaccine — it's just that it has a problem with those seeking an exemption on religious grounds. For example, regarding active-duty members, the Navy has approved at least 10 permanent medical exemptions, 259 temporary ones, and 60 administrative exemptions (e.g., in cases involving time in service until separation or retirement). 

Why the animus? Why is the Navy (and the Army) opposed to granting religious exemptions? Their hostility is as immoral as it is unconstitutional.

As the Supreme Court has noted, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 affords "greater protection for religious exercise than is available under the First Amendment." Indeed, the only way the Navy can succeed in its quest to deny religious liberty is to prove to the courts that it has a "compelling governmental interest" in invoking its rule. But that has been undercut in this instance by its willingness to grant exemptions on secular grounds. 

Unfortunately, elites in the military, following the elites in virtually every other sector of society, have been infected with the woke virus: they have become captive to the politically correct mavens who are steering the dominant culture. It certainly wasn't this way when I was in the Air Force in the late Sixties.

We need real men in high stations in the armed forces. Real men stand their ground when bombarded with propaganda — they don't cave to invidious changes in the culture.  

Bill Donohue is president and CEO of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization. He was awarded his Ph.D. in sociology from New York University and is the author of nine books and many articles.

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