SEALs Had Medical Rights Stripped for Requesting Vaccine Religious Exemptions, Says Lawyer

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
and Joshua Philipp
Joshua Philipp
Joshua Philipp
Joshua Philipp is an award-winning investigative reporter with The Epoch Times and host of EpochTV's "Crossroads" program. He is a recognized expert on unrestricted warfare, asymmetrical hybrid warfare, subversion, and historical perspectives on today’s issues. His 10-plus years of research and investigations on the Chinese Communist Party, subversion, and related topics give him unique insight into the global threat and political landscape.
January 20, 2022Updated: January 20, 2022

U.S. Navy service members had their medical rights stripped for requesting religious exemptions from taking the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a lawyer at First Liberty Institute.

In a recent interview with EpochTV’s “Crossroads” program, Mike Berry, general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm, said that several of his clients were refused medical care because of their vaccination status.

Berry represents a number of U.S. military service members, a lot of them being Navy SEALs. First Liberty Institute challenged the Navy’s handling of religious exemptions and religious accommodation requests.

His legal work at the nonprofit helped secure a preliminary injunction in early January that stopped the Defense Department from taking any action against a group of Navy SEALs who have religious objections to the vaccine mandate.

“We presented lots of evidence to the court of various things that the Navy is doing to, not just our clients, but really to sailors and other members … far beyond just those that First Liberty represents. But we presented evidence such as denying, or at least attempting to deny … the ability and opportunity for some of our clients, who I mean, these are combat veterans,” explained Berry.

“These are men who have served our country nobly and honorably, and they’ve suffered physical injuries, and in some cases, traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. There are clinics that are available for service members to help get them treatment for traumatic brain injury.”

Berry claimed that in some cases, the Navy sought to prevent his clients from traveling to such clinics, even at his clients’ own expense, “simply because they were not vaccinated, or more specifically, because they have a religious objection to the vaccine. The Navy has told them, ‘You are not allowed to seek treatment for your traumatic brain injury.’”

“And [in] other instances, they’ve told them that neither they nor their family members who are private citizens (the Navy has no control or authority over private citizens, as we all know, but nevertheless), the Navy said neither you nor your family members and your dependents are allowed to travel for official or unofficial reasons, because you’re not vaccinated.”

The Epoch Times has contacted the Pentagon and the Navy for comment.

Berry’s remarks came as the Marine Corps on Jan. 13 became the first U.S. military branch to grant religious exemptions to the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, nearly two months after the vaccination deadline for active-duty Marines.

The Marines approved two requests for religious accommodation from the mandate, the branch said in a statement last Thursday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the mandate in August 2021, but every branch had resisted granting religious accommodations, sparking lawsuits and allegations that the military was violating federal law by discriminating against religious troop members.

The lack of approvals prompted a federal judge earlier this month to block the mandate for a group of Navy personnel, with the judge finding the record “overwhelmingly demonstrates that the Navy’s religious accommodation process is an exercise in futility.”

Berry, however, says the two religious accommodations seem “very suspicious” to him.

“For there now to be, just completely randomly out of the blue, two approved, just seems very suspicious to me,” he said. “So I’m very curious, and I want to know more about these two approved religious accommodations.

“What were the circumstances of them, what was the nature of the religious accommodation request, and what were their religious beliefs? Why were these two approved when the thousands and thousands of others were denied?” he asked. “I think that those are important questions that the American public deserves to know.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.