Threatened with a lawsuit, the U.S. Coast Guard has reversed a decision to force a Catholic officer to receive a vaccine created from the lung cells of an aborted fetus.
Coast Guard officials notified the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday it will grant Lt. Com. Joseph Healy a religious exemption to a requirement that all active-duty personnel be vaccinated against Hepatitis A.
“I am very pleased that the Coast Guard has allowed me to follow my conscience,” Healy told WND. “I hope that others will be able to do the same in the future.”
As WND reported in January, Healy had requested religious exemption on the basis of his strong pro-life stance and Catholic theology. After Capt. Brent Pennington rejected Healy’s request, the Alliance Defense Fund, on behalf of Healy, filed a lawsuit to stop the forced vaccination.
“Members of the U.S. military should never be forced to make an unconstitutional choice between honoring their country and honoring their faith,” stated ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman.
“Christians shouldn’t be punished for abiding by their beliefs against abortion.” Bowman said.
ADF attorneys have filed a notice to dismiss the lawsuit filed Jan. 2.
Bowman said the decision “is consistent with the Coast Guard’s mission to save human lives from dangers at sea; in this case, those in danger are the unborn babies in the turbulent waters of their mothers’ wombs.”
In May 2006, the Coast Guard ordered all active-duty personnel to receive one of two vaccines against Hepatitis A or show proof of immunity. Healy researched the vaccine and discovered that an immunized person can still be a carrier of Hepatitis A if he comes in contact with infected fecal matter. Proper hygiene and simple hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease, he found.
Healy further noted, “Eighty-five percent of those exposed to the virus display slight to no symptoms and all develop a permanent immunity to the virus once exposed. Less than 3 percent of all exposures lead to severe symptoms or death.”
Since the disease did not pose significant risk to himself or others around him, Healy weighed his decision heavily on his Catholic faith and pro-life convictions. He said he simply could not in good conscience use a vaccine in any way connected to abortion.
Following Healy’s protestations, military officials argued, “Catholic teaching does not state that these immunizations are against the religious tenets of the Catholic Church.”
The Coast Guard, as with other branches of the military, allows religious exemptions for personnel who hold a “religious tenet or belief contrary to immunization.” Following military protocol, Healy submitted a memo requesting religious exemption based on his Catholic faith.
Pennington rejected the request.
“Please note that the refusal to be vaccinated or failure to comply with a lawful order to be vaccinated is a violation of Coast Guard regulations,” Pennington wrote Healy. “Any member who refuses to be vaccinated or fails to comply with a lawful order to be vaccinated is subject to military proceedings under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or other appropriate administrative proceedings at the unit commander’s discretion.”
Healy cautioned that while the Coast Guard has reversed its decision, it could, along with the Defense Department, cancel the policy allowing religious exemptions for vaccines.