An Ohio federal judge ordered the U.S. Air Force to stop discharging members requesting religious exemptions from its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Many Air Force service members indicated they submitted requests for religious exemptions from the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. They noted that Air Force chaplains had confirmed they held sincere religious beliefs. Despite that, the military branch either denied their exemption requests or did not act on them, so they asked a court to intervene.
Ohio’s Southern District Judge Matthew McFarland’s 22-page order grounded the Air Force command’s discipline process against unvaccinated members seeking exemption due to sincere religious beliefs. McFarland noted his ruling affected approximately 22,000 service members.
“As of June 6, 2022, the Air Force had received 9,062 religious accommodation requests, granting 86 of those requests while denying 6,343 requests,” noted McFarland. “A quick calculation shows that the Air Force, either through initial requests or appeals, have granted approximately one percent of religious accommodation requests between September 1, 2021, when the Air Force vaccine requirement went into effect, and June 6, 2022.”
The judge seemed troubled by the low number of religious exemptions granted in light of numerous medical and administrative exemptions. He noted that even though the Air Force denies almost every religious exemption request, it granted 729 medical exemptions and 1,006 administrative exemption requests since announcing its “vax or axe” policy September 1, 2021.
McFarland went the extra mile for the airmen in granting a rare class action certification for the approximately 22,000 affected service members. So, instead of each Air Force member separately suing the service, all their cases are being bundled into one big class action.
After granting the request for class action certification, the Donald Trump appointee issued a two-week restraining order that prevents the Air Force from discharging members of the class.
The military branch was directed to file a legal brief with his court of no more than 10 pages with any reasons he should not issue a preliminary injunction against the continued use of the mandatory vaccination policy. Judges usually do not issue injunctions unless they believe the other party will likely prevail in their pending legal action.
That is a good sign McFarland believes the evidence will support the plaintiff’s case against the Air Force when it reaches trial.
Liberty Counsel is a religious freedom organization that has represented the Air Force plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the branch.
“This is a great decision that grants protection for the religious freedom for all Air Force personnel from Joe Biden’s unlawful COVID shot mandate,” said Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver in a statement. “No service member should be required to choose between service to the country and service to God.”
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