A federal judge in Georgia on Tuesday temporarily allowed an Air Force officer to remain unvaccinated against COVID due to a “vaccine connection to abortion,” making her the first chapter member exempt from a military-wide vaccination mandate.
U.S. District Court Judge Tillman E. Self III issued a preliminary injunction against an anonymous Air Force Reserve officer in court documents obtained by that were released Tuesday. The judge’s ruling describes the Air Force’s procedure for accepting a small number of exemptions from the coronavirus vaccine on religious grounds as “illusory and insincere.”
A judge based in Macon, Georgia, ruled that the Air Force violated the officer’s First Amendment rights when an internal review process dismissed her original claim. She completed a religious denial last year and appealed the BBC’s denial last December.
The court’s decision comes eight days after more than 3,000 Air Force members received exemptions for medical or non-religious reasons – a first in the military.
“It seems illogical to think, let alone argue, that the plaintiff’s religiously based refusal to accept [coronavirus] the vaccine will “severely impede” military functions when there are at least 3,300 other military personnel left in the Air Force who are as unvaccinated as she is,” Self’s order said in court documents.
“The only difference is that the plaintiff was not vaccinated because she followed her religion, while the rest were granted either medical or administrative exemption from receiving the vaccine.” [coronavirus] vaccine.
U.S. District Judge Tilman E. Self III, serving in the Middle District of Georgia court, has given temporary permission for an unnamed Air Force officer to remain unvaccinated, in contravention of the U.S. military’s mandate to vaccinate.
The anonymous Air Force officer is the first service member to be granted an exemption, a potential breakthrough for other service members seeking religious accommodation for their requests.
The lawsuit was filed January 6 on behalf of an Air Force officer from Robins Air Force Base in Macon, Georgia. At that time, the military department did not yet allow any religious exemptions, and the first nine approved cases did not arrive until 8 February.
In total, according to internal military data, as of February 8, the Air Force had rejected 3,665 religious requests and had 3,288 more to consider. The Air Force fired 142 service members for refusing to vaccinate, according to a statement last week.
“The Ministry of the Air Force is aware of the preliminary injunction and will comply with the court order until the matter is resolved in court. The BBC has no other comment on this ongoing litigation,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement.
The Air Force officer involved in the trial is believed to be a 25-year veteran who has never violated the unit’s disciplinary rules.
The order described her role as an “administrative position in the Air Force Reserve” that prevented her from participating in any physical combat or military operations. She is most likely a civilian employee at Robins Air Force Base.
In addition to her lawsuit, the officer filed a separate request for religious accommodation to the coronavirus vaccine mandate as a civilian, but the Air Force had yet to rule on it before a federal judge in Texas stopped Biden in January. Administration from imposing a mandate to vaccinate civilians working for the federal government.
If she is not granted an exemption from the military-wide vaccination mandate introduced by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in August, the officer is likely to resign from the Air Force “in protest.”
Her argument in the lawsuit is that she cannot be vaccinated due to her Christian faith, citing her opposition to abortion, calling it a “serious evil”.
The three main COVID vaccine options — Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna — have been approved and supported by the US government. One made by Johnson and Johnson was tested and developed using fetal cell lines, but the vaccines themselves do not contain aborted fetal cells or fetal tissue. This means that there are no fetal cells or fetal tissue in the injections.
Orders from several religious groups, including the Vatican, came out in support of the vaccines, saying they were morally acceptable.
“Plaintiff sincerely believes that it is contrary to her conscience and contrary to her faith to receive a vaccine derived from, or tested on, tissue from an aborted fetus,” the lawsuit says. “…Fidelity to her religious beliefs is more important to the plaintiff than her career and compensation, but the Constitution forbids defendants from forcing her to choose between her beliefs and work.”
The officer’s argument in the lawsuit is that she cannot be vaccinated due to her Christian faith, citing her opposition to abortion, calling it a “serious evil”.
In total, according to internal military data, as of February 8, the Air Force had rejected 3,665 religious requests and had 3,288 more to consider. The Air Force consists of 328,255 active military personnel.
The lawsuit also shared details about the officer’s “natural immunity” after testing positive for COVID infection in 2020. In December last year, the woman took an antibody test, which showed that they are still contained in her body.
She is also ready regularly [coronavirus] tests during personal work at the base, wear a mask, maintain social distance and work remotely if necessary, ”the lawsuit says.
In total, the Air Force officer is at least the 38th U.S. service member to approve an injunction preventing the Pentagon from punishing her for failing to comply with her vaccination mandate.
In January, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction against 35 Navy personnel, nine of whom were “Navy Special Operators” and 26 Navy SEALs. Last month, another federal judge in Florida blocked military sanctions to punish a Navy officer and a Marine officer in a separate case.
All judges so far have refused to issue a nationwide injunction to protect all active-duty members against vaccinations from fines associated with a potential failure to follow a vaccination mandate. In his lawsuit, the Air Force officer shared his support for the idea, Self wrote in his order.
However, in his order, he said that her arguments in the lawsuit “simply do not warrant a nationwide injunction.”
Self, who is a four-year Army veteran, wrote that the Air Force should review its procedure for military personnel seeking religious release.
“Given such a notable track record of disapproving of requests for religious accommodation, the court easily concludes that the BBC’s religious rights process is both illusory and disingenuous,” he wrote. In short, it’s just theater.