Military chaplains appeal to Supreme Court over COVID-19 policies that forced out religious objectors

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A group of military chaplains is urging the Supreme Court to stop the Department of Defense from enforcing policies that it says punish those who filed religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The Supreme Court is currently considering the chaplains’ appeal of a Fourth Circuit decision to dismiss the case. While awaiting the ruling, the chaplains argue that “interim relief is necessary” to protect both the Court’s jurisdiction and the chaplains “from continuing irreparable harm, career destruction and/or discharge,” according to the petition.

“Without interim relief to protect their chaplaincies, many Chaplains will have been forced out of the Armed Services before the merits of this case returns to this Court after remand,” the filing states. “To preserve this Court’s future jurisdiction over the permanent resolution of the Chaplains’ challenge, the Court should issue interim relief now to ensure that DOD cannot play out the clock as a means to evade review of its unlawful Mandate.”

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Army soldier receives COVID vaccine

A group of military chaplains is asking the Supreme Court to stop the Department of Defense from enforcing policies that it says punish those who filed religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.  (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

The petition alleges that the DOD has not removed “adverse personnel actions” — unfavorable measures such as poor fitness reports that may affect promotions and result in other consequences — from the chaplains’ files. The petition contends that the adverse personnel actions occurred due to the chaplains’ religious accomodation requests (RAR).

“These Chaplains’ careers are dead men walking, direct consequences of filing RARs but hidden by DOD’s emphasis on ‘solely’ as the adverse action’s cause,” the filing states.

The chaplains filed exemptions that requested they be excused for religious reasons from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s mandate that all service-members receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The chaplains took up the lawsuit “when it became obvious DOD was denying all RARs, using that process to purge those who believed in following their faith-formed conscience by requesting RARs,” the court document states.

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Lloyd Austin looking serious

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

It adds: “Embedded within the Chaplains’ claims are foundational questions of religious freedom, free-speech, and petition rights — uniquely applied to military chaplains: ‘Who gets to decide what authority controls a chaplain’s conscience, the God of his or her faith, or a government bureaucrat?’”

The filing cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a means to limit DOD’s power to impose on members of the Armed Services any given administration’s views about religious issues.

“DOD’s open hostility to religion likely corresponds to the Armed Services’ recent and repeated failure to meet their recruiting goals,” the filing claims.

The chaplains also spotlighted what they defined as the Defense Department’s alleged “open rebellion” against an order by Congress to fully “rescind” the vaccine mandate. The filing charges that this “rebellion” was “hidden by DOD’s malicious compliance.”

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military

The American flag attached to the American military uniform. (iStock)

According to the filing, the Defense Department removed some related disciplinary documents but made false assertions that all “adverse actions” had been removed from the files of those requesting religious exemptions.

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“It has not removed the ‘adverse personnel actions’ such as bad fitness reports causing failures of promotion, missed schooling, or the consequences thereof,” the chaplains’ petition states. “DOD’s numerous retaliatory ‘adverse actions’ against these Chaplains violate the law, breeding ‘contempt for law and inviting every man to become a law unto himself.’ That invitation has no place in DOD.”

A spokesperson for DOD said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Fox News’ Shannon Bream, Bill Mears, Liz Friden and David Spunt contributed to this report.

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