The Navy has paused its efforts to separate and discipline sailors who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds following a federal judge’s order in Texas last week.

But a sea service administrative message released Wednesday also warns that commanders will continue to consider vaccination status when making “deployment, assignment and other operational decisions,” in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court order last month.

A March 28 order by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor allowed a lawsuit brought by 35 sailors who refused the service’s COVID vaccine mandate to go forward as a class action lawsuit. It could cover thousands of members who objected to getting the vaccine over religious beliefs, the Associated Press reported.

The preliminary injunction protecting those 35 sailors from adverse Navy actions now extends to other sailors who refused the vaccine, according to the AP, prompting the Navy’s pause on such moves.

While there had been 3,323 requests for a religious exemption from the mandated vaccine as of Thursday, the Navy has granted none of those waiver requests.

Wednesday’s so-called “NAVADMIN” suspends “separation processing and adverse administrative consequences” for refusing the vaccine on religious grounds, but it cites the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the service to consider vaccination status for deployment, assignment and other decisions.

As several military COVID vaccine mandate cases play out in the courts, the NAVADMIN directs commands to not issue DD-214 discharge papers to sailors who were supposed to be involuntarily separated for refusing the vaccine.

“All unvaccinated Navy service members remain subject to screening testing against COVID-19, where required,” the NAVADMIN states.

As of March 24, 732 sailors had been separated for refusing the vaccine.

Roughly 99% of the fleet had been vaccinated as of Thursday.

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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