Commander of Norfolk-based destroyer who refused vaccination is reassigned
Daily Press April 20, 2022
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(Tribune News Service) — The commander of a Norfolk-based destroyer whose refusal to get a vaccination for COVID-19 led a Florida judge to bar the Navy from reassigning him so the ship could go to sea has been shifted to a shore assignment, court records show.
The commander, unnamed in the court records, was reassigned after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit stayed U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday’s injunction.
In a filing with Merryday’s court, the commander’s lawyer said the officer was told April 8 that he was reassigned to a shore command and so did not get underway with his ship on April 11. The commander was temporarily reassigned for 60 days under a new Navy policy that prohibits unvaccinated personnel from going underway on Navy ships, his lawyer said.
The appeals court, in overturning Merryday’s injunction, said the U.S. Supreme Court had stayed a similar lower court injunction while the basic issue of service members’ rights to refuse vaccination was under appeal.
The ship’s commander and a Marine lieutenant colonel, among others, have sued, saying their religious freedoms were infringed when they refused vaccinations and then were subject to reassignment.
Merryday had ordered the Navy not to remove the commander, saying he would “suffer a substantial burden on a sincere religious belief … which requires the preservation of his body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Keeping the commander in his assignment on the destroyer “presents a direct and imminent threat to national security during a global military crisis,” the Pentagon said in a court filing.
”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 Pentagon said.
The destroyer squadron’s commodore, Capt. Frank Brandon, testified that the commander disobeyed an order he is expected to enforce, to get a vaccination and had misled him about taking leave out of the area.
Brandon said the commander had been in contact with members of the destroyer’s crew over two days while infected with the contagious virus, including at one point 50 or 60 people packed shoulder to shoulder in a confined space.
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