Tampa judge grants 2 military members exemption from vaccine mandate on religious grounds

Two members of the US military will be allowed to stay on active duty despite not being vaccinated for COVID-19.

A federal judge in Tampa has ruled that their religious beliefs exempt them from having to comply with the Biden Administration's mandate to get a COVID-19 vaccine

"They feel incredible relief," said Mat Staver, the president of Liberty Counsel, the Orlando firm that represented the members. "Because they love God, they love the country."

They're described in the ruling as being devoutly Christian, and believe the vaccines introduce unclean or foreign substances. 

PREVIOUS: Tampa judge to hear lawsuit brought by military members to stop vaccine mandates

Over 48 pages, the judge explained that a Navy warship commander and a Marine Lieutenant Colonel can stay on duty despite their wish not to be vaccinated for COVID-19, saying the military didn't successfully argue other preventative measures weren't adequate, and that the requirement places an undue burden on their religious exercise.

"The judge's decision was a strong rebuke to all the branches of the military," said Staver.

PREVIOUS: Hearing over COVID-19 vaccine mandates for military members to be held at Tampa federal court

US District Judge Steven Merryday noted that the Navy and Marines have denied over 90% of around 7,500 requests for religious exemptions. 

While the plaintiff's lawyers, a firm called Liberty Counsel, argue this ruling could be a harbinger for pending cases, legal analysts expect the military to refine their rules to satisfy this judge's complaints.

"The military service will take more individual considerations into account, they will make more detailed rules," said Rick Johnson, an employment lawyer in Tallahassee.

Over 90 percent of military members have been or are on their way to being fully vaccinated, with the Biden Administration citing a desire to protect those working in close quarters on life-or-death missions from having outbreaks. 

Marshall Griffin represents armed services members in military court.

"The military has never been a place for personal freedom," said Griffin. "It prizes obedience and conformity. Getting a religious accommodation for anything in the military has always been difficult."

The military members have been allowed to remain anonymous.