Congressman Keith Self Files Congressional Amicus Brief at SCOTUS in Support of Military Chaplains’ Conscience Rights

Congressman Keith Self led an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs in Alvarado v. Austin, 39 military chaplains who suffered a blanket denial of their Religious Accommodation Requests (RAR) followed by retaliatory actions. Twenty-five members of Congress signed Rep. Self’s amicus brief, in a strong show of support of chaplains’ right to follow their conscience.

The Department of Defense’s (DoD) COVID-19 vaccine mandate violated servicemembers’ and chaplains’ religious liberty and caused real harm to their careers. In the first place, the DoD issued blanket dismissals of chaplains’ RARs instead of giving each individual consideration as required by law. In addition, chaplains who had filed RARs endured significant retaliation—through degraded fitness reports, removal from their units, denial of permission to travel, denial of mandatory trainings for promotion, and more—that continues to stain their careers and chances for promotion. 

These actions violate specific laws Congress enacted—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013—to protect the First Amendment right to freely exercise one’s religion. In addition, Congress rescinded the DoD’s vaccine mandate in December 2022.

While lower courts dismissed Alvarado v. Austin as moot, Rep. Self’s brief argues the case is not moot as the Court can still provide real relief to the wronged petitioners. The brief goes on to state, “Servicemembers do not lay aside their religious liberty upon enlisting. Chaplains, whose very job is to minister spiritually to and inform the consciences of servicemembers, must be free to follow their own conscience without fear of official retaliation.”

“Congress has recognized military chaplains’ essential role in the armed forces and has enacted specific protections for religious servicemembers’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion,” wrote Congressman Self. Prominent Americans, from George Washington and General Pershing to General MacArthur, commended and highlighted chaplains’ invaluable roles as defenders of servicemembers’ First Amendment rights and moral stewards of the Armed Forces.

“Both Congress and the courts have intervened in law to safeguard Americans’ rights of conscience time and again. In recognition of military chaplains’ vital role for centuries in preserving servicemembers’ freedoms, Congress has expressly outlawed the military from forcing chaplains to forsake their consciences,” Congressman Self states. “Like so many other pandemic-era cases involving a government body overstepping its bounds to restrict Americans’ First Amendment rights, requires the Article III branch to step in and provide relief.”


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