Federal Court Orders Air Force To Not Impose Vaccine Mandate On Members Who’ve Filed Religious Exemptions

Image Credit: NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive / U.S. National Archives / Public Domain

By Bethany Blankley [The Center Square contributor] –

A federal court in Ohio entered a nationwide preliminary injunction Thursday prohibiting the U.S. Air Force from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate against religious objectors.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s order in Doster v. Kendall remains effective until a full trial is held. It follows the temporary restraining order the court issued July 14 when it granted class action status for all Air Force plaintiffs nationwide. Class status protects all active-duty Airmen, active reserve, National Guard, Air Force Academy cadets, the Air Force Reserve Command, and Space Force members.

In their 16-page filing, attorneys for the government argued blocking the Air Force from punishing the unvaccinated “would interfere with ongoing legal proceedings and would otherwise be improper, particularly in light of significant new developments.”

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Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, director of staff for the Air Force’s headquarters, said in a declaration that the unvaccinated were “at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and substantially more likely to develop severe symptoms resulting in hospitalization or death.” Exempting those with religious exemptions “would pose a significant and unprecedented risk to military readiness and our ability to defend the nation.”

Judge Matthews McFarland disagreed.

“The defense has failed to raise any persuasive arguments for why the court should not extend the preliminary injunction issued on March 31, 2022 to cover the Class Members,” McFarland ruled.

Government attorneys also argued the federal court didn’t have jurisdiction to rule on military decisions to which McFarland said, “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” citing the landmark Supreme Court 1803 ruling in Marbury v. Madison.

McFarland issued his ruling as members of the U.S. Coast Guard represented by Liberty Counsel requested a federal judge in Florida to grant them class action status, and after Thomas More Society attorneys won the first preliminary injunction in the U.S. against the Air Force vaccine mandate on behalf of one officer in a case filed in Georgia.

In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Tilman Self, III, issued a blistering rebuke of the Air Force’s refusal to grant religious exemptions. He described how the plaintiff’s chain of command justified denying religious exemptions as: “Your religious beliefs are sincere, it’s just not compatible with military service.”

“That’s about as blunt as it gets,” Self wrote. “True, he undoubtedly spoke for himself, but when considering the Air Force’s abysmal record regarding religious accommodations requests, it turns out he was dead on target.”

He noted that the Air Force’s percentage of granting religious exemptions was 0.24%.

The Ohio ruling was a “big win for religious freedom,” Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton said. “The vaccine mandates have been a disaster for the country, for the military, and especially for those with deeply held religious convictions. The Air Force’s insistence on forcing all of its members to take an experimental injection – one which has been proven again and again not to prevent infection – over the sincere objections of people of faith, is both unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

In Florida, Liberty Counsel filed an amended complaint in federal court with Judge Steven Merryday seeking class action relief for plaintiffs who currently serve in the U.S. Coast Guard.

The plaintiffs have refused “to receive an injection that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs since all of the COVID shots are associated with aborted fetal cells,” Liberty Counsel said, noting they’ve been “unlawfully refused any religious exemption or accommodation.” It also said that disciplinary actions have already begun, negatively impacting those whose religious exemption requests were denied.

“Our courageous Coast Guard heroes have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and defend this country from enemies both foreign and domestic,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said. “Their constitutional rights are not quarantined while they are defending this nation. The Department of Defense continues to violate the law and ignore their religious freedom. This lawlessness must end.”

Court rulings continue to be issued in favor of those in the military fighting the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin maintains the mandate is necessary for military preparedness. Those who don’t comply face discharge, court martial, other disciplinary procedures and consequences.

In another case Liberty Counsel’s filed, Navy SEAL v. Austin, Staver argues those whose religious accommodation requests were denied face mental anguish and “cruel and unusual punishment.”

A declaration filed in the case in April revealed “shocking evidence of the abuse, intimidation and retaliation military members are facing over the Biden shot mandate,” including service members who’ve committed suicide, Staver said.

About the Author: Bethany Blankley is a writer at the Center Square, Patheos/Hedgerow, political analyst and former press secretary at Capitol Hill / NY / WDC. Follow Bethany on Twitter @BethanyBlankley.

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