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Navy board rules in favor of officer who refused COVID vaccine order to ‘be a voice for lower-ranking servicemembers’

“Here we see Lt. Billy Moseley doing the right thing by standing up for others, speaking out, even at great risk to himself, his career, and his reputation. This is a basic Christian virtue — being selfless and sacrificial — and should be applauded.”

A Navy administrative separation board has ruled 3-0 in favor of an officer who refused to take the COVID vaccine, saying his refusal was not misconduct.

Quick Facts

Beginning last summer, the Pentagon has required every member of the military to receive the COVID vaccine but has granted a paltry number of exemptions leading to discharges of otherwise exemplary and high-performing servicemembers, including Navy Seals.

One of those top military officers was Lt. Billy Moseley, a 22-year veteran and an evangelical Christian. He could have retired with full benefits but decided to fight the vaccine mandate. A press release from Moseley’s lawyer, R. Davis Younts, says that Moseley opposed the vaccine for religious reasons and could have filed for a religious exemption, but “when he learned that the Navy and the other services intended to implement a blanket denial policy, he began to prayerfully consider other options.”

It adds, “After consulting with legal and medical experts, he became convinced that as an officer he had an obligation to take a stand against the unlawful order and be a voice for thousands of enlisted Sailors.”

Servicemembers who have been in the service for six years are able to appear before the board, and any decision by the board is binding. Younts argued that the vaccines distributed to the military were not FDA-approved and thus the mandate was not a lawful order. The board unanimously agreed 3-0 and ruled that Moseley had not committed misconduct and should remain in the service.

Younts said the decision “puts the Navy in an interesting position” regarding other servicemembers who have refused the vaccine. “Although, this [is] only one case of thousands and we have many more clients facing prosecution by the military, we are encouraged that the truth was revealed in this Board, and we hope this ground-breaking case sends a strong message to the Department of Defense” the press release says.

The Standing for Freedom Center asked Younts what the impact of this board’s decision could be on the Navy’s COVID policy. Younts responded, “This Board is significant because an independent Board of officers made this determination. It alone does not set precedent but it does send a strong signal to the military that there are officers who are willing to ask hard questions and do the right thing in these cases. If more of these cases are won by military members, it could force a change in policy.”

When asked for his thoughts on the ruling, Younts answered, “My biggest takeaway is that God is faithful. Lt. Moseley and his family took an incredibly brave stand and risked his career and retirement.”

While nearly every member of the military has received the vaccine, there are still those who are fighting the mandate or who have been punished for refusing. Over 2,100 Marines, 900 sailors, 500 Army soldiers and 360 airmen have been discharged, and at least 50 were discharged during entry level training. The Army alone has issued written reprimands to 3,330 active duty soldiers and expects to discharge thousands more soldiers.

The branches of the military have received criticism for denying nearly all religious exemption requests. The Army received 4,238 exemption requests and approved two. The Air Force denied 5,129 and approved 42. Out of 3,352 requests, the Navy approved only 27, and those were only cases where the sailors were already planning to leave the service.

Earlier this year federal judge Reed O’Connor ruled in favor of 35 Navy SEALs who had requested a religious exemption from the requirement, calling the Navy’s review of those requests “theater” and said it “rubber stamps” denials.

The Air Force Academy has decided that three cadets who refused the vaccine can graduate with their degrees but cannot attend the ceremony and will not receive commissions. There have been some reports that those three cadets will be required to pay back their tuition in full.

These decisions come as the Army has announced it will reduce its force over the next two years, citing a tight job market and difficulty reaching high school seniors who are eligible for the service. Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a budget hearing, “With COVID cases at all-time lows, why are we still enforcing the COVID vaccine mandate on our military personnel?”

Austin responded, “We’ve seen variants of this virus wane and then grow again. So, this is a medical readiness requirement, and it will remain so.”

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that recruiters face a headwind in that 71 percent of those ages 17-24 are ineligible for service. Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana retorted, “I think the largest headwind is inescapably the reaction that DoD took to COVID.” He noted low unemployment and a smaller number of eligible recruits was a problem before COVID. “So, what’s changed over the last 24 months? It’s the department’s COVID vaccine mandate. And there’s just no way around it.”

Johnson noted the statistic that 40 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are refusing the vaccine. “Off the bat, that’s 40 percent of the target demographic that’s immediately ineligible to serve. I mean, this is just a fact.” He added that the number of refusals is higher in southeastern states, which he claimed send a disproportionate number of men and women to the military.

“It’s pretty plain, if we look at this, that DoD is having a recruiting and retention crisis because it has disqualified over half of the male population from serving in the military in its best-recruiting grounds, and nearly 40 percent of men and women aged 18 to 24 nationwide,” he added.

It seems the Pentagon has learned nothing from its poor handling of the mandatory and experimental Anthrax vaccine immunization program in the 1990s and early 2000s, which led to punishment and discharges of top servicemembers and ill effects from the vaccine. The Pentagon, led by the Biden administration, also demands compliance at all cost and it will not respect any refusal for any reason. What effect the decision of the Navy administrative separation board has on others who are fighting the vaccine requirement remains to be seen. Younts argued on the basis that the vaccines used by the military remain experimental and can only be mandated by President Biden, who has not done so. There is an actual FDA-approved product out there, but the military is not using it as yet. When they do start using it, Moseley’s legal challenge likely won’t hold much weight.

Still, what Moseley did by standing up and risking his retirement and reputation is courageous. He fought to protect his fellow sailors and their fundamental civil liberties, unlike the Navy. Moseley is also standing for his own religious beliefs and for the right to refuse an experimental vaccine.

In the United States we have religious freedom to obey God rather than men. These servicemembers who risk their lives so others can remain free should be allowed to honor their fundamental constitutional rights to conscience and faith by refusing the vaccine rather than be forced to obey an order that may be unlawful. If the Pentagon wants to increase its recruiting numbers, it might start by showing that it actually cares about its existing servicemembers and honors them by acknowledging and respecting their deeply held religious beliefs.

Biblical Application

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul tells Christians that they have a duty in how they use their bodies: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

This is an important reminder, and should be a key piece of our Christian worldview when it comes to understanding how Christians should interact with vaccines and vaccine mandates.

And the end of the day, each and every believer is responsible to God for how they steward the gift of their body. As Christians, we cannot abdicate this stewardship simply because the government tells us to. Ultimately, we serve God, not the government.

Now, many Christians may personally come to the decision that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is the right thing for them to do. But for Christians who conclude otherwise, the government of the United States is beholden to the laws of our land, including the First Amendment, which protects our religious freedom and our sacred rights of conscience.

Furthermore, here we see Lt. Billy Moseley doing the right thing by standing up for others, speaking out, even at great risk to himself, his career, and his reputation. This is a basic Christian virtue — being selfless and sacrificial — and should be applauded.

Christians should follow in the footsteps of Lt. Billy Moseley, standing up for those around them, even as the culture presses in on our freedoms. One way Christians can do this is by making sure to go and vote against politicians and policies that undermine, rather than enforce, our First Amendment rights.

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