The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio unanimously upheld a class-wide injunction protecting unvaccinated U.S. Air Force personnel from being disciplined over their refusal to obey the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
For now at least, the ruling protects 10,000 — or one out of every 50 — service members from punishment for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine on religious grounds. The case will surely be appealed by the Biden administration to the U.S. Supreme Court.
From January through April, roughly 3,400 troops have been discharged for refusal, service personnel officials told lawmakers this Spring. The Air Force had kicked out more than 830 airmen and guardians who refused vaccination as of July 11, according to Air Force Times.
In October, the Air Force began to allow many of those airmen to resume flying.
“The Department of the Air Force has ordered all of its over 500,000 service members to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Some 10,000 members with a wide array of duties have requested religious exemptions from this mandate. The Air Force has granted only about 135 of these requests and only to those already planning to leave the service. Yet it has granted thousands of other exemptions for medical reasons (such as a pregnancy or allergy) or administrative reasons (such as a looming retirement). The 18 Plaintiffs who filed this suit allege that the vaccine mandate substantially burdens their religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). Finding that these claims would likely succeed, the district court granted a preliminary injunction that barred the Air Force from disciplining the Plaintiffs for failing to take a vaccine. But its injunction did not interfere with the Air Force’s operational decisions over the Plaintiffs’ duties. The court then certified a class of thousands of similar service members and extended this injunction to the class,” the judges wrote in their ruling.
The lead author of the ruling was U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Murphy, a Donald Trump appointee.
Murphy stated, “”The Air Force cannot rely on its general readiness or health concerns to refuse specific exemptions. In the abstract, the Air Force may well have a compelling interest in requiring its 501,000 members to get vaccinated. It has also largely achieved this general interest, as evidenced by its ability to vaccinate over 97% of its force.”
Murphy wrote that the claims were justiciable because the service members established standing by the nearly nonexistent exemptions granted by the Air Force and intentions by 10,000 to refuse the vaccine.
“The basic facts are undisputed. The Air Force has denied all religious-exemption requests unless a service member has agreed to leave within a certain time, and it has granted far more medical and administrative exemptions. Either the Air Force can justify these policies or it cannot. But the plaintiffs have pointed to specific questions that matter for the class’s claims and that decisionmaker can resolve in ‘one stroke,'” Murphy wrote.
Murphy also said the Air Force is working at cross-purposes in its challenges to both the individual and class-action claims.
“We are asked to deny that common questions exist for purposes of certifying a class but to accept that common answers exist for purposes of rejecting all 18 plaintiffs’ claims on their merits. We decline this inconsistent invitation,” Murphy wrote.
Read the 56-page ruling at this court link.
In October, the Federal Air Surgeon determined that FAA medical certificate holders may not act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required flight crew member, for 48 hours after each dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Some pilots are reluctant to get the Covid-19 vaccine because of the possibility of side effects such a blood clots.
“The Federal Air Surgeon made this determination after evaluation of available medical information about these COVID-19 vaccines and potential side effects. As a result of this determination and consistent with 14 CFR § 61.53(a), each person subject to part 67 who receives the vaccine must wait 48 hours after each dose before acting as pilot in command or as a required flightcrew member.,” according to the FAA, in one of the first official recognitions that there may be problems with some of the vaccines for those who fly.
The mainstream media has disputed that Air Force pilots have been resigning due to the mandates. Read the Reuters story here.