The United States Navy has said that a $2 billion warship is unable to deploy because its commanding officer is refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Navy is reportedly seeking to fire the unnamed commander for not following orders and having lost their “confidence” in his ability to lead the ship and crew.
The Navy believes he is unfit to command for not receiving the COVID-19 jab, and as a result, could cause a national emergency because they would not feel secure sending the ship out to sea with him in command.
However, The National Review added that the Navy commander “was part of a class-action lawsuit in October with several other service members challenging the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on religious grounds.”
In response to that lawsuit, Federal Judge Steven Merryday of U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled in February that while that lawsuit is going on, the Navy and Marines cannot take any punitive action against members of those units who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine — despite orders.
At the heart of the matter is the role religious liberty has to play in a person’s decision — or coercion — to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the Times noted based on court filings:
The issues stem from a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida late last year alleging servicemembers’ rights are being infringed upon by the COVID vaccine mandate because their religious beliefs prevent them from taking the vaccine.
Judge Steven D. Merryday issue an order last month banning the Navy and Marine Corps from taking any disciplinary action against the unnamed Navy warship commander and a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel for refusing the vaccine.
On February 28, the Navy requested permission to fire the CO, arguing Merryday’s injunction is “an extraordinary intrusion upon the inner workings of the military.”
The Navy claimed that the commander has shown other callous behavior, such as exposing the 320 member crew of the ship he commands to COVID-19 in November of last year after he became ill.
“By forcing the Navy to keep in place a commander of a destroyer who has lost the trust of his superior officers and the Navy at large, this Order effectively places a multi-billion-dollar guided-missile destroyer out of commission,” defense attorneys claimed in court.
But the commander’s attorneys argue that “The Navy’s feigned ‘loss of confidence’ in the Commander is patently pretextual and has everything to do with the Commander’s lawful and orderly attempt to obtain judicial relief from an unconstitutional mandate.”
Likewise, the Times noted that the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that “the ship was underway for more than 300 days during the 400 pandemic days when no vaccine was available” and there was no “no operational impediment.”
“If there is injury to the Navy from shutting down the Commander’s ship, it is self-inflicted and intentional,” the filing added.
Others in the military have also issued statements against the commander’s decision to not get the vaccine, the Times reported:
Vice Adm. Daniel Dwyer, the head of U.S. 2nd Fleet, called the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the case “profoundly concerning.”
“The prospect of a subordinate commander in charge of other Service members or military assets disregarding the orders of his or her superior for personal reasons, whatever they may be, is itself a manifest national security concern,” Dwyer wrote.
But in his filings, Merryday rejected the Navy’s request on March 3, and insisted the only thing being debated is whether or not the commander has the right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to reject the vaccine:
“What’s more, the government’s contention that vaccination against COVID maximizes the health and safety of servicemembers is not in dispute,” he wrote.
“The defendants might prefer to argue that question, but the plaintiffs and the court address only the question presented in the RFRA claim,” Merryday’s order states.
The anonymous CO has been in the Navy since 2004, and has never previously had a blight on his record, the judge noted.
“This peculiarly subjective determination of ‘lost confidence,’ arriving suddenly after 17 stellar years of service by [the commander] and after, to say the least, tense exchanges with his superior officer about vaccination and about his religious exemption claim does not warrant immediate deference but, rather, demands a closer examination,” Merryday observed in his response the Navy’s February 28 filing.
The case will now continue on Thursday when Merryday will hold a hearing to further consider reassignment of the commander featuring a witness and exhibit from parties involved in the case.