The Navy refuses to deploy one of its warships because its commander refuses to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, which the Navy says makes him unfit for command.
But a district court judge has ruled the Navy can’t remove the commander because it would amount to taking disciplinary action against him because of his religious beliefs, according to the Navy Times.
In a legal filing, attorneys for the commander said the Navy is willing to damage national security for the sake of making a point.
“If there is injury to the Navy from shutting down the Commander’s ship, it is self-inflicted and intentional,” the March 1 court filing argued, according to the Navy Times.
The impasse grew out of a lawsuit filed claiming that the military cannot force service members to be vaccinated when it is against their religious beliefs
The Navy wanted to implement a policy, saying, in effect, get the shot or walk the plank.
But Judge Steven D. Merryday, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, last month temporarily stayed any disciplinary action by the Navy in the case of the warship commander and a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who also has refused to be vaccinated, the Navy Times reported. The officers have not been publicly identified.
However, according to the Navy Times, records show the Navy commander is under Capt. Frank Brandon, “the commodore of the Norfolk-based Destroyer Squadron 26.”
According to a June 2021 news release announcing Brandon’s position, the squadron consists of six guided-missile destroyers: USS Stout, USS Oscar Austin, USS James E. Williams, USS Truxtun, USS Nitze, and USS McFaul.
Attorneys for the Navy called that “an extraordinary intrusion upon the inner workings of the military” in a Feb. 28 filing and claimed the issue is a “manifest national security concern.”
The government’s case boils down to its argument that a commander who refuses to follow all orders cannot be trusted with command.
“With respect to Navy Commander, the Navy has lost confidence in his ability to lead and will not deploy the warship with him in command,” the Navy’s attorneys stated in their filing, according to the Navy Times.
“By forcing the Navy to keep in place a commander of a destroyer who has lost the trust of his superior officers and the Navy at large, this Order effectively places a multi-billion-dollar guided-missile destroyer out of commission,” the Navy’s attorneys argued.
“No military can successfully function where courts allow service members to define the terms of their own military service, including which orders they will choose to follow,” the filing stated.
Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, which is representing the service members, downplayed what he called “these histrionic kinds of statements into the record that are completely contrary to the evidence,” the Navy Times reported.
Staver said the Navy says the commander cannot be trusted, but still has him running his ship, a destroyer based in Norfolk, Virginia.
“When this was filed in court saying the ship is not deployable because they lost confidence in the Commander, the Commander was on board the ship out to sea for two weeks of testing and training for military readiness,” Staver told the Navy Times in an interview on Monday. “He returned to port last Friday, March 4, after the drills were completed.”
The claim that the warship commander can’t really be in charge “reeks of petty retaliation and contempt” of the court’s injunction that stayed federal punishment, according to a March 1 filing on behalf of the service members.
“The Navy’s feigned ‘loss of confidence’ in the Commander is patently pretextual and has everything to do with the Commander’s lawful and orderly attempt to obtain judicial relief from an unconstitutional mandate,” the filing stated.
The filing noted that the ship was underway for more than 300 of the first 400 days of the pandemic “with no operational impediment,” according to Navy Times.
The Navy rolled out some big guns in trying to get its way.
Vice Adm. Daniel Dwyer, the head of U.S. 2nd Fleet, wrote in a statement attached to the Navy’s Feb. 28 filing that the judge’s decision to block the Navy from punishing the commander until the case is heard was “profoundly concerning.”
“The prospect of a subordinate commander in charge of other Service members or military assets disregarding the orders of his or her superior for personal reasons, whatever they may be, is itself a manifest national security concern,” Dwyer wrote.
Fleet Forces Command’s leader, Adm. Daryl Caudle, also wrote a statement attached to the Feb. 28 noting that obedience is essential.
“In the deadly business of protecting our national security, we cannot have a Sailor who disobeys a lawful order to receive a vaccine because they harbor a personal objection any more than we can have a Sailor who disobeys the technical manual for [operating] a nuclear reactor because he or she believes they know better,” he wrote.
In a March 3 decision, Merryday rejected what he called the government’ attempt to “evoke the frightening prospect of a dire national emergency resulting from allegedly reckless and unlawful overreaching by the district judge,” according to the Navy Times.
Merryday wrote that terms of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are the focus of the case, not national defense readiness, according to the Navy Times.
“Surely the free exercise rights restored by RFRA are not subject to evisceration or circumnavigation by a notion as subjective and illusory—and, according to the defendants, unreviewable by the judiciary — as a sudden ‘loss of confidence’ by a superior officer who sends a declaration to the court,” Merryday wrote, according to the Navy Times.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.