Court Blocks Government From Punishing Unvaccinated Air Force Members

The US Air Force officials said in court that they were prepared to use any measure necessary to punish service personnel who declined the vaccine. However, the court has blocked the government from punishing unvaccinated air force members.

Court Blocks Government From Punishing Unvaccinated Air Force Members

A federal district court in Ohio has briefly stopped the Biden government from imposing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on thousands of U.S. Air Force service personnel who have chosen not to receive the shot due to their religious convictions but have had their requests for religious exemptions denied.

The Biden administration is prohibited from taking any action for at least 14 days against any Air Force member who chose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a temporary restraining order issued on Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Matthew McFarland, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in late 2019.

The judge’s decision also gives the case “class status,” which means that all Air Force members who requested a religious accommodation in response to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate from September 1, 2021, to the present and who were verified by the Air Force Chaplains as possessing a genuine religious belief, but whose requests were denied or who have not yet been implemented, will receive reprieve under the temporary restraining order. Over 12,000 airmen would be included in this class, according to the plaintiffs’ argument.

The action is a result of a lawsuit brought in February 2022 to contest the COVID-19 vaccine requirement imposed by the Biden administration. Plaintiffs include all similarly impacted individuals in addition to 18 active-duty Air Force personnel stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Hurlburt Field in Florida, Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, and Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia.

“The court has already granted a preliminary injunction to our 18 original plaintiffs,” an attorney in the case, Tom Bruns of Siri & Glimstad law firm, told The Epoch Times. “The court has now granted a class certification—and that’s kind of the historic moment—Air Force-wide, service-wide, it covers every member of the Air Force. And now he’s saying, ‘Why shouldn’t I grant the preliminary injunction to all those folks?'”

In his order (read below) giving the class status, McFarland stated: “They face separation from the Air Force and other disciplinary measures. A single injunction would provide relief to the entire class. Indeed, the main purpose of a [lawsuit class] is to provide relief through a single injunction or declaratory judgment. Because Defendants have uniformly maintained a policy of overriding Airmen’s religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine, they have acted ‘on grounds that apply generally to the class.’

“Moreover, the class definition requires that a Chaplain certify that the airman’s religious beliefs are sincerely held. Finally, a single injunction would provide the proposed class with the relief they seek from the harm they stand to suffer.”

McFarland granted the Air Force until July 21 to respond, “identifying why this Court should not grant a class-wide preliminary injunction.” Additionally, he granted the plaintiffs until July 25 to submit a response.

As of July 11, almost 6,800 military personnel had their petitions for religious accommodations rejected, according to data from the Air Force. Only 104 applications have been accepted. In the meantime, the force has “administratively separated” 834 troops. The statistics show that 97.1% of the Air Force has had its vaccinations in full, while 0.1% have only received partial vaccination.

Nurse and Army veteran Renee Langone administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to U.S. Air Force (active duty reservist) Dr. Pei-Chun McGregor at the West Roxbury VA Medical Center in Boston, Mass., on Dec. 23, 2020. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

Painful Consequences

For several airmen, McFarland’s directive came just in time. An airman at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska informed the media that a lot of people received notices in the past week specifying the date of their last day.

According to Wendy Cox of the law firm Siri & Glimstad, one customer was in the middle of a board hearing to determine his future with the organization. By objecting to the COVID-19 shot, airmen ran the possibility of losing their jobs and facing disciplinary action.

“One of the officers we were representing was facing $1,000 a month pay reduction for two months as well as an official letter of reprimand,” Cox said. “We’ve had people removed from positions of commands because of their alleged violation of this order to get a vaccination, of which they are unable to get because it violates their religious beliefs.”

“Some were stranded in foreign countries after refusing the shot, and missed weddings. There’s some pretty tragic stories about what has happened,” Cox said.

According to the attorneys, the Air Force officials said in court that they were prepared to use any measure necessary to punish service personnel who declined the shot, including up to court martial and two years of incarceration at Leavenworth.

“The proof in the case was very clear. The Air Force tried to pretend that they did individualized analysis of each service member’s religious objection, and, and that did occur in terms of the service member proving they had a sincerely held religious belief,” Bruns said. “But then the Air Force, in its affidavits, proved that when it came to accommodating that belief, they took the position we can’t grant religious exemptions, because we have to save these slots for administrative and medical exemptions. So their own proof was ‘We didn’t do the individualized analysis on the back end, because we weren’t granting any religious exemptions.’ And it was only once the lawsuits got filed, that they granted a few religious exemptions. And all of those folks were near the end of their career.”

The Air Force wanted to hear each of the airmen’s cases separately, but in his ruling allowing class status, McFarland pointed out that the Air Force did not take each request for a religious accommodation into account individually when denying it.

“Defendants appear to again argue that the court must individually analyze each airmen’s claims on the one hand, while systematically denying all religious accommodation requests despite the factual differences defendants claim the court should consider on the other,” McFarland wrote.

“The Court appreciates there may be minor factual differences between the members of the class, including roles, responsibilities, levels of proximity, likelihood of deployment or travel, and ability to telework, as well as different religious beliefs and reasons for objecting to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“However, these minor differences do not outweigh that defendants’ typical response when receiving a religious accommodation request is to deny it. The typicality of the putative class is reflected in the fact that defendants have indiscriminately denied almost all religious accommodation requests, and their use of form letters to deny the accommodation requests. Such facts suggest that defendants do not individually weigh each applicant’s belief or circumstances in issuing their response, further cementing the typicality of the class.”

Read the document below:

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