Chris Lange, FISM News
A federal court on Thursday temporarily blocked Air Force officials from enforcing the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on U.S. service members.
Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Matthew McFarland entered a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio barring the military branch from disciplining airmen seeking religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate pending the outcome of another case.
McFarland said the defendants failed “to raise any persuasive arguments” as to why a March 31 preliminary injunction should not be extended.
In a significant development, the judge’s ruling also grants the case “class status,” protecting over 12,000 service members who filed religious accommodation requests between Sept. 1, 2021 and the present from disciplinary measures. Moreover, the ruling extends the disciplinary prohibition to all members of the U.S. Air and Space Forces.
“This is another big win for religious freedom,” said Thomas More Society senior counsel Stephen Crampton, one of the attorneys representing an individual Air Force officer in a similar lawsuit. He continued,
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.
Government lawyers argued that barring the military from disciplining unvaccinated service members “would interfere with ongoing legal proceedings and would otherwise be improper, particularly in light of significant new developments.” Among the developments cited is the approval of a new COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Novavax – the first inoculation that doesn’t use fetal cells in development, manufacture, or production, which the lawyers claim renders religious objections moot.
Among the nearly half a million members of the U.S. Air Force, 97.1% have been vaccinated, according to a July 12 Department of the Air Force report. Around 1,440 exemption requests have been granted, 2,847 are currently pending, and 6,803 have been denied.
The U.S. military has lost more than 1,100 soldiers, 800 airmen, 1,000 sailors, and 2,000 Marines as a result of the Biden mandate, “with thousands more separations likely to come,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote on his official website.
“Most of these individuals are young, physically fit, and at the lowest risk of hospitalization or death from COVID. We desperately need these service members, but President Biden seems content to lose them,” the senator wrote, adding that the vaccine mandate “is threatening our military readiness.”
The Army Reserves recently cut off more than 60,000 military members from participating in military duties for refusing COVID-19 vaccinations. The military has sought to keep the vaccination requirements in place even though every branch of the U.S. military has fallen behind in meeting FY 2022 recruitment quotas and the Army recently dropped its high school graduation requirement in an effort to increase its recruitment numbers.