A US Navy warship based in Norfolk, Virginia, has been deemed “out of commission” following a ruling from a federal court that stops the Navy from removing the ship’s commanding officer because he refuses to accept a COVID-19 vaccination. The court’s order comes amid reports that the ship’s service commanders have said they have lost faith in the ability of the commanding officer to lead the ship.
The commanding officer, whose name has not been released, was part of a federal class-action lawsuit last fall that challenged the military’s vaccine mandate based on religious beliefs. He later was part of a separate similar lawsuit filed in January.
Judge Steven Merryday of the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued a preliminary order last month, providing that while the case is pending a final ruling, the Navy may not demote or reassign the officer to preserve the “status quo.” Judge Merryday was appointed in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush.
The Navy responded to the order by requesting an emergency stay of enforcement, alleging that the order prohibits the service from removing an officer “deemed unfit for command.” It said the order presents a “direct and imminent threat” to national security.
Judge Merryday denied the request for a stay and accused the Navy attorneys of trying to “evoke the frightening prospect of a dire national emergency.” He did agree to schedule a hearing to consider allowing an order allowing the reassignment of the officer.
The unnamed officer joined the Navy in 2004 and commanded a guided-missile destroyer. The Navy denied his request for a religious accommodation to the vaccine.
Meanwhile, the Commander’s Senior Officer, Captain Frank Brandon, says that the commander should be removed from his post not because he refuses to be vaccinated but over allegations he has disregarded other policies designed to protect the ship’s crew.
Brandon told the court that the commander attended a meeting of 50 or 60 persons while he had a sore throat and could “barely speak.” Brandon said he ordered the commander to take a COVID-19 test, which indicated a positive result for infection.
Brandon also stated the commanding officer lied to him over a leave request. He alleged the commander said he was asking for leave to visit family when he traveled to Florida to testify in his court case.
Brandon said that the commanding officer should be removed for “putting his crew at risk” and failing to comply with Navy COVID policies.