The Navy is threatening demotions, pay cuts and a ban on travel for SEALs who have religious objections to the vaccine
EXCLUSIVE: A growing number of U.S. Navy SEALs who are seeking a religious exemption to the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate are being threatened and, in some cases, harassed into submission, Fox News has learned.
A series of new directives by the Navy are promising severe punishment, including demotions, pay cuts and a ban on travel for SEALs, and other Navy service members, who do not comply with the vaccine mandate. For some SEALs who are in the process of seeking a religious exemption to the mandate, the process is nearly impossible to successfully complete to get a waiver, Fox News has been told.
Michael Berry, First Liberty Institute’s general counsel and Lt. Col. U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, who is representing approximately 34 active-duty SEALs and two reservists, told Fox News that the Navy’s new directives are illegal and infringe upon an individual’s First Amendment freedoms.
“Purging our military of its elite servicemembers is detrimental to national security. Doing so because the Commander in Chief refuses to accommodate their religious convictions is abhorrent to the Constitution. Their years of experience and leadership in service to our nation is immeasurable and irreplaceable,” Berry told Fox News.
Berry continued, “Remove a SEAL from special warfare, reduce his salary, and force him to repay his training is purely vindictive and punitive. And it’s illegal. They have nothing to do with a virus.” Berry’s clients have a combined more than 350 years of military service and more than 100 combat deployments.
A new directive by the Navy’s COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA) issued Thursday states that if SEALs decline the vaccine, the Navy may seek to recover from each individual SEAL the money the government has spent on training them. For an individual SEAL, the training costs alone is estimated to amounting to several million dollars.
“The CCDA may seek recoupment of applicable bonuses, special and incentive pays, and the cost of training and education for service members refusing the vaccine,” reads the document.
On Oct. 6, the Navy issued a directive banning all official and non-official travel for non-vaccinated service members and their spouses and dependents.
Another internal document reviewed by Fox News states that SEALs, as special operations (SO) duty personnel, who refuse to get vaccinated based only on religious or personal beliefs, will be “disqualified” from SO duty. That would mean a SEAL seeking a religious objection would lose his or her “special warfare” pay due to SO status. However, this does not apply to SEALs who are seeing medical objections to the vaccine.
The Navy told service members on Thursday that Nov. 14 is the deadline for active-duty sailors to get either their second shot of a two-dose vaccine or the single shot of a one-dose vaccine. Reservists have until Dec. 14.
One incident of harassment by a supervisorial officer toward a SEAL who stated his religious objections to the vaccine appears to contradict the Navy’s official statement that all service members are able to seek exemptions from the mandate if desired.
According to a source familiar, when one SEAL informed his commander that he was planning to seek a religious exemption, the officer said that he would have to give up his Special Warfare pin, also known as a “Trident.” If a SEAL loses the privilege of wearing a Trident, he or she is removed from the SEAL community completely and sent back to be a regular sailor, despite in some cases, years of hard earned special operator status.
Lt. Cdr. Patricia Kreuzberger told Fox News that although she could not speak specifically on matters affecting the SEALs, service members are entitled to seek religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
“Mandatory vaccination for our servicemembers is a lawful order that maximizes our operational effectiveness. To be world-wide deployable, Naval personnel must be medically qualified which includes being up-to-date on required vaccinations. Servicemembers are entitled to seek religious exemptions and those requests will be considered in keeping with current Navy policy.”
She also said that the Navy has been reviewing service members’ filed religious exemptions to the mandate on a “case-by-case” basis. She would not elaborate on the number of exemptions that have been filed, rejected or approved by the military.
The Navy said Thursday in a news release that over 98% of active-duty service members have met the “readiness responsibility” by starting or completing a COVID-19 vaccination series.
First Liberty plans to file a complaint in the near future on behalf of the SEALs using pseudonyms and concealing locations in order to protect the identities of the service members, who fear retaliation from Navy leadership.
“SEALs have invested their lives into serving this nation, dedicating years of their lives and millions of taxpayer dollars in training to be the most elite fighting force on the face of the earth. Yet, the Commander in Chief would simply kick them out of the Navy, send them to jail, and force them to repay the nation for their training—all for simply declining a vaccine,” said Berry.
Fox News also agreed to omit the names of the SEALs in this story in order to conceal their identities.