By Jack Fink

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Nearly three dozen U.S. Navy Seals and Naval Special Warfare Operations personnel have filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

They have asked a federal judge in Fort Worth to stop the Navy from carrying out its policy that they say discriminates against their religious beliefs.

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On Monday, they argued their case before US District Judge Reed O’Connor.

A Naval Special Warfare Operations officer testified that he felt the Navy was trying to coerce him into getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

He said he applied for a religious exemption but still hasn’t heard whether he will receive it.

His attorneys told the judge the Navy is violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They said the Navy has granted exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine for medical and administrative reasons but hasn’t granted any exemptions for any vaccine based on religious beliefs for the past seven years.

In an interview after the court hearing, Mike Berry of the First Liberty Institute said, “What they can’t do is ignore the law when they’re enforcing that vaccine mandate. You can’t discriminate against people on the basis of religion, on the basis they ask for a religious exemption. That’s unconstitutional, that’s discriminatory.”

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In response, the US Justice Department lawyer representing the government said the Navy is still considering nearly 3,000 requests for the religious exemption for the vaccine.

She said the Navy is not forcing members to get the vaccine and isn’t in the process of kicking them out of the military.

The government attorney said the military needs to be ready to deploy quickly but that COVID-19 can spread and sideline an entire unit.

But Berry said the military performed during the pandemic before the vaccine was available and continued to do so after the vaccine was available before it became mandatory. “So what’s different now?”

He said the Navy’s policy is keeping their clients from being deployed in any special operations. “What we’ve asked for is while we’re waiting for this decision, that our clients not be punished any further than they already have. The regulations that say if you ask for religious accommodations, you are now medically disqualified and non-deployable.”

Also on Monday, US Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas along with eight other Senators and 38 members of the U.S. House filed a brief with the court in support of the Navy Seals and other personnel. “Defendants’ vaccine mandate forces Plaintiffs — individuals who have devoted their lives to the protection of the country — to choose between following their sincerely held religious convictions and effectively being discharged, losing their calling, and destroying their financial well-being.”

Judge O’Connor didn’t issue a ruling Monday.

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He said he’s taking the issue under advisement.