By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – U.S. District Court Judge Tilman Self III is the first to stop the U.S. Air Force from enforcing its military COVID-19 vaccination mandate on a service member.
Judge Self granted a preliminary injunction against the US Department of Defense on behalf of an Air Force officer who had been denied a religious warrant exemption. As a result, DOD cannot enforce the warrant or take adverse action against her, including forcing her to retire.
At the start of his 32-page order, the judge describes how the plaintiff’s chain of command justified why she was denied a religious exemption: “Your religious beliefs are sincere, it’s just not consistent with the military service.”
“That’s about as brutal as it gets,” Judge Self wrote in her decision. “True, he no doubt spoke for himself, but considering the Air Force’s abysmal record of requests for religious accommodations, it turns out he was right in the middle of it. the thousand.”
Although the Air Force claimed to provide a religious accommodation process, “it turned out to be no more than a pipe dream for the applicant because it was” in the opinion of all, . . . theater,” Judge Self wrote, citing U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s January 3, 2022 assessment in another case, U.S. Navy SEALs 1–26 v. Biden, on the US Navy’s religious accommodation process, or lack thereof.
In the Navy SEAL case, the latest documents received by the court as of February 4 reveal that of 24,818 requests for religious exemption received by the four branches, only four were granted. While religious exemptions continued to be denied, 4,146 medical exemptions were granted.
“Despite thousands of requests for religious exemption, the Air Force had granted none when the plaintiff filed her lawsuit,” said Judge Self, who presides over the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Georgia, Macon Division.
At the end of the hearing on the preliminary injunction application, Judge Self said he informed the parties that he had closed the window to receive evidence. But six days later, the Biden administration ignored his decision.
“Undeterred, the Defendants filed Col. Jason A. Holbrook’s Statement…six days later, advising the Court that “As of February 4, 2022, nine . . . requests for religious accommodation. . . have been approved within the Air Force,” he said.
Adding this evidence, Judge Self said, “This increases the percentage of religious exemptions granted by the Air Force from 0.00% to approximately 0.24%. So, suffice it to say, the defendants’ last minute efforts to inject something new into the case does not change the Court’s opinion because what Colonel Holbrook’s statement does not tell the Court, that’s when the Air Force granted these nine religious exemptions. ”
Since the Air Force did not say when the requests were granted, Judge Self decided to find out for himself. He searched the data on the Air Force’s COVID-19 website and found that as of January 31, 2022, “the Air Force has not yet approved a single religious exemption.”
“In other words, the Air Force has granted these nine exemptions in the last two weeks,” he said.
The Thomas More Society’s lead attorney, Stephen Crampton, noted that the Air Force had granted more than 1,500 medical exemptions by the time it filed the suit, but no religious exemptions had been granted. granted.
Judge Self’s scathing rebuke came in a case filed January 6 by the Thomas More Society on behalf of an officer who has served his country for more than 25 years. The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Air Force and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and alleges that the U.S. military violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The officer opposes taking COVID-19 vaccines because of their association with aborted fetal cells and has asked for a religious exemption. Although she was willing and able to work remotely, wear a mask and test herself periodically, the Air Force permanently denied her religious exemption request in December.
When she rejected her appeal, she had less than a week to decide whether to get vaccinated, submit a retirement request or decline the vaccine in writing. The Air Force also informed her that “Any refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, absent an approved exemption, may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice . . . and that “continued refusal will result in involuntary reassignment to the individual loan reserve without regular pay, benefits or responsibilities,” according to the brief.
Plaintiff argues that Air Force policy forces her to choose between her job and her faith, and that the Constitution and RFRA protect her from having to make that choice.
She argues that she “has a sincere religious belief that prohibits her from undergoing an injection of any of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines” and the Air Force requirement exerts “substantial pressure “on her” to modify (her) behavior and to violate (her) beliefs.
Judge Self said, “A classic case of ‘substantial pressure’ occurs when a person has to choose between his job and his religion”, and the defendants “say little in response” to this argument. “In fact, as of February 7, 2022, ‘the Air Force has administratively separated 142 active-duty Airmen’ for refusing to be vaccinated,” he said, citing Army data. ‘air.
“And, how could they?” he asks. “Very few scenarios paint a darker picture than giving up your livelihood to follow your religious beliefs.”