Judge Halts Punishment of Airmen Who Filed for Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandate

soldiers_praying_cross_AP
Associated Press

Judge Matthew W. McFarland of the Southern District of Ohio on Wednesday granted a preliminary injunction against the Air Force from punishing airmen who filed for a religious exemption to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.

The order came almost two weeks after McFarland ordered a temporary restraining order against the Air Force from pursuing punitive measures against those airmen, and the Air Force did not successfully argue against it.

McFarland wrote that the Air Force failed to raise any “persuasive arguments” for why the Court should not extend an existing Preliminary Injunction prohibiting the Air Force from punishing a group of plaintiffs to all airmen seeking religious exemption. He added:

[T]he Court reminds Defendants that ‘[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Thus, due to the systematic nature of what the Court views as violations of Airmen’s constitutional rights to practice their religion as they please, the Court is well within its bounds to extend the existing preliminary injunction to all Class Members.

Air Force Class Preliminary Injunction – July 27 by Kristina Wong on Scribd

Aaron Siri, whose lawfirm represented the plaintiffs, tweeted: “Proud to announce our firm, along with @ChrisWiest11 and Tom Bruns, just obtained a national preliminary injunction prohibiting the air force, space force, and air national guard from penalizing service members that refused a C19 V for religious reasons.”

The order considers the class to include:

All active-duty, active reserve, reserve, national guard, inductees, and appointees of the United States Air Force and Space Force, including but not limited to Air Force Academy Cadets, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Cadets, Members of the Air Force Reserve Command, and any Airman who has sworn or affirmed the United States Uniformed Services Oath of Office or Enlistment and is currently under command and could be deployed, who: (i) submitted a religious accommodation request to the Air Force from the Air Force COVID-19 vaccination requirement, where the request was submitted or was pending, from September 1, 2021 to the present; (ii) were confirmed as having had a sincerely held religious belief substantially burdened by the Air Force’s COVID19 vaccination requirement by or through Air Force Chaplains; and (iii) either had their requested accommodation denied or have not had action on that request.

In addition, the order said the Air Force, which includes their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and other people acting in concert or participation with them, who receive notice of this preliminary injunction, are PRELIMINARILY ENJOINED from:

(i) taking, furthering, or continuing any disciplinary or separation measures against the members of the Class for their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, while keeping in place the current temporary exemption; such disciplinary or separation measures include, but are not limited to, ‘adverse administrative actions, non-judicial punishment, administrative demotions, administrative discharges, and courts-martial’ for the benefit of Defendants, this includes continuing any administrative separation or punitive processes or initiating the same.

Defendants, as well as any person acting in concert with Defendants, are enjoined and restrained from taking any adverse action against any Class Member on the basis of this lawsuit or his request for religious accommodation from the COVID19 vaccine.

The case is Doster v. Kendall, No. 1:22-cv-84 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

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