Members of the U.S. Coast Guard who sought a religious accommodation request (RAR) from the U.S. Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccine mandate and were denied are encouraged to consider joining a class action lawsuit filed by Thomas More Society.
The Chicago-based nonprofit legal organization filed a class action lawsuit against the Coast Guard, Stone et al. v. Mayorkas, et al. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Sept. 16. The lawsuit challenges the Coast Guard’s broad denial of RARs to the DOD mandate.
The plaintiffs are facing involuntary discharge because they argue they are being forced to take an experimental drug that was developed with or tested on aborted fetal cell lines, which they argue violates their religious conscience and is contrary to their faith.
According to court filings, the Coast Guard hasn’t disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs, it’s just issued across-the-board denials of their RARs.
The Department of Defense continues to maintain that the mandate is necessary for military readiness and that U.S. district court judges don’t have jurisdiction to oversee military policy. In several cases in several jurisdictions, all federal judges have disagreed with the DOD’s position, each handing different military branches ongoing losses in court. A DOD Inspector General also found that U.S. military officials in all branches violated federal law by issuing widespread denials of RARs.
Still, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a memorandum to initiate separation proceedings to active duty and reserve members who refused to take the vaccine and who filed an RAR that was denied.
One plaintiff in the class, Alaric Stone, says he’s suing because he joined the Coast Guard because of his faith and “Now I find myself in a situation where I am being forced to choose between my faith and service to my country; it’s truly heartbreaking.
“I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and religious freedom is a cornerstone of our Constitutional guarantees.”
Two weeks after TMS filed its class action lawsuit, the Coast Guard agreed to defer its Inactive Status List transfer date to Dec. 1 for all 122 putative class member reservists who’d been given an Oct. 1 transfer date.
The agreement will give them temporary relief, including allowing them to continue receiving an income while the court considers pending motions in the case.
TMS Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton notes it’s only temporary and only applies to a few out of many in dire situations.
“We continue to hear every day from additional service members facing imminent discharge or transfer orders,” Crampton said. “These agreements with the Department of Justice underscore the serious and irreparable harm that Coast Guard service members continue to face and point to the need for court-
The Coast Guard “has made threats, and carried out threats, to punish service members” who apply for RARs, including denying them schooling, promotion, and assignments, he said.
They’ve been “formally reprimanded and threatened with involuntary discharge,” even after the latest Centers for Disease Control prevention guidelines were issued, “which recommend no longer differentiating based on a person’s vaccination status, Crampton said.
TMS also notes that while the Coast Guard has insisted on “forcing these brave and principled service members out,” it’s also acknowledged that “it faces an urgent shortfall in personnel and recruiting.
“The actions of both the government and the Coast Guard in this situation are ridiculous as well as illogical,” Crampton said.
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that denying RARs due to “speculation” and “conjecture” about hypothetical future harms, another argument used by the DOD and military branches to enforce the mandate, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.
In order to accommodate the increasing number of service personnel in need of legal assistance who continue to be impacted by the Coast Guard’s refusal to approve RARs, TMS created a portal for service members to use to be considered to join its class action lawsuit.
The portal states, “If you are a member of the Coast Guard who sought a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, we encourage you (but you are not obligated) to fill out the form on this page. If you have received a specific date of discharge or date of transfer to the Inactive Status List (ISL), please specify.”
The class action names Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Defense Lloyd Austin, Commandant of the Coast Guard Linda Fagan, and Assistant Commandant for Human Resources Coast Guard Brian Penoyer as defendants.