Photo: USAF Crew Chiefs of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force base launch their B-52H Stratofortress bombers in minimal interval takeoffs during an operational readiness inspection. Photo Credit: NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive
By Victor Skinner [The Center Square contributor] –
A senior airman stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier Parish, Louisiana is suing over the Biden administration’s military COVID-19 vaccination mandate after officials denied her religious exemption.
Senior Airman Faith Crocker filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, challenging the Department of Defense’s mandate, which went into effect Aug. 24.
Crocker filed a religious accommodation request to seek an exemption with the support of her unit and endorsement from her chaplain, but the request was denied in a form letter that conceded her beliefs were sincere. Crocker appealed the decision with additional details about the importance of her religious beliefs and unwillingness to compromise, but she was again denied Feb. 25.
The military gave Crocker five days to take the vaccine or face involuntary separation, but Crocker filed the lawsuit with the help of the Pelican Institute instead.
“I should be able to serve both my faith and my country. The rejection of my religious accommodation request has put me in a situation where I must give up my religious freedom to serve the country that I love,” Crocker said.
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Crocker is the daughter of a Baptist pastor who serves her church and is studying for a degree in religion using the GI Bill. The lawsuit noted Crocker has a spotless military record and argued her discharge would result in the loss of her career and education.
The lawsuit claims the Biden administration’s military COVID-19 vaccination policy fails to comply with the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the Administrative Procedure Act.
The Pelican Institute noted Crocker is only one of thousands of service members across the country who have been denied religious accommodation requests.
The U.S. Air Force alone has denied more than 4,637 religious accommodation requests as of March 1, while only 17 have been approved, a denial rate of more than 99%. The denials do not account for natural immunity or skills or training of those who seek exemptions.
“Meanwhile, those who have sought other exemptions have had them honored: as of March 1, the Air Force had granted 1,294 medical exemptions and 1,686 administrative exemptions from the (Department of Defense) Vaccine Mandate,” the Institute reported. “There is no reason to treat those seeking religious exemptions worse than those who seek exemption for secular reasons.”
The case comes amid increasing global threats from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s implied threat of using nuclear weapons. Service members at Barksdale Air Force Base are integral to the U.S. nuclear bomber fleet and critical in any conflict, according to the Institute.
Attorneys representing Crocker also pointed to the drastic drop in COVID-19 cases and fatality counts and the end of Louisiana’s emergency declaration as evidence the continued vaccine policy is unnecessary. The Pelican Institute previously led the legal challenge to the Biden administration’s COVID-19 testing requirements on private businesses that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.
“Airman Crocker is a patriotic and faithful member of our armed forces who swore an oath to defend her country and the Constitution. The government is now forcing her to pick between her sincerely held religious beliefs or her continued service in the United States Air Force,” said James Baehr, special counsel at the Pelican Center for Justice. “This unjust government overreach is both unfair and unconstitutional and we now ask the court to vindicate her rights.”