There's Good News and Some Really Bad News on America's Religious Freedom Front

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

There is good news from the federal courts on the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right of every American to express and practice their religious faith (or lack thereof), but things look much worse in the executive branch.


So, let’s look at the good news first:

Mat Staver’s Liberty Counsel won an important step forward in forcing the Department of Defense to stop blatantly discriminating against members of the U.S. military seeking religious exemptions from submitting to the COVID-19 vaccine shot.

U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday granted a temporary restraining order sought by Liberty Counsel on behalf of a Lt. Colonel in the Marines and a Navy Surface Warfare Officer. Both requested and were denied religious exemptions and faced being tossed out of the military service.

“The record in this action establishes that the two service members are very likely to prevail on their claim that their respective branch of the military has wrongfully denied a religious exemption from COVID-19 vaccination.

“The record creates a strong inference that the services are discriminatorily and systematically denying religious exemptions without a meaningful and fair hearing and without the showing required under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), while simultaneously granting medical exemptions and permitting unvaccinated persons to continue in service without adverse consequence,” the judge ruled.

Merryday further barred Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “from diminishing or altering in any manner and for any reason the current status of Navy Commander and Lieutenant Colonel, including their assignment, privileges, rank, or the like. In short, Navy Commander and Lieutenant Colonel must remain ‘as is’ throughout the duration of this injunctive relief.” A hearing is set for Feb. 11 to determine what follows the injunction’s expiration.


Data that Merryday ordered DOD to produce in the case show a clear pattern of religious discrimination. There were as of Jan. 21 nearly 23,000 religious exemption requests from members of the five branches of the U.S. military.

Of the nearly 23,000 requests for religious exemptions, only three were granted, and two of those were for individuals who had previously announced retirement plans. By contrast, DOD has granted 3,449 requests for medical exemptions from the vaccine.

“The court acknowledges that while the military is allowing unvaccinated service members with medical exemptions, it is unlawfully denying religious exemptions. Yesterday’s order is a positive step toward finally putting an end to this abuse of the law and of our military personnel,” said Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver in a statement following Merryday’s order.

Now, for the bad news:

At least 55 federal departments and agencies are compiling databases of varying detail regarding the religious beliefs and practices of government employees, applicants for civil service jobs, and visitors to official facilities.

Yes, you read that correctly — officials are creating databases of the religious beliefs and practices of millions of American citizens. Staver, who also heads Liberty Counsel Action, offered this observation:


“IBM created a database of the Jewish people in Europe. Using this database, Nazis were able to identify the Jews and prohibit them from public and then private employment. This database is what enabled Nazis to round up those targeted for ghettos and concentration camps.

“The federal government has started its own database on Americans of faith. We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot allow a federal database categorizing people by their religion or medical status. What possible good can be accomplished by these government lists? I cannot think of one.”

Fortunately, more than three dozen Republicans in the House of Representatives are moving to stop this latest illustration of the inevitable grasping, expansive, abusive tendencies of government bureaucracies.

In a Jan. 24 letter to President Joe Biden, 40 House GOP signers declared:

“Your administration cannot use the power of the federal government to track the applications of federal employees who have applied for a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. From day one, your administration has displayed a consistent attitude of contempt towards Americans who prioritize faith in their lives.

“Your administration’s attempt to use the power of the federal government to single out Americans who object to the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds is inexcusable and must be withdrawn … Your administration has offered no valid justification for these intrusive databases that will only be used to target Americans who have refused a COVID-19 vaccine because of their religious convictions.”


For a complete list of the 55 offending departments and agencies, based on the latest available information compiled by Liberty Counsel Action, go here.


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