Air Force Members File Suit After Being Rejected Religious Exemption From COVID Vaccine

You can’t open a social media app on your phone without seeing the smiling faces of brand new college graduates full of hope and wonder.

Unless you are an Air Force Academy cadet who refused the COVID vaccine under religious exemption.

Three such cadets were allowed to graduate this year but were not allowed to attend the ceremony and are also being refused their subsequent commission as new Air Force officers.

It seems odd to turn down new leaders in the military when this country is facing rising tensions with two near-peer adversaries across both oceans. Do these three cadets have any hope of retaining their commission?

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Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)

Service members who have been denied their religious exemption requests and discharged have been fighting back under the RFRA of 1993. The RFRA was meant to protect individuals’ religious freedoms against government laws that run counter to their beliefs.

Air Force members have filed a class-wide temporary restraining order meant to halt their discharge from the military while they file their religious exemptions. So far, the Air Force has granted 68 religious exemptions. Compare that to the 6,113 denied and the over 2,000 that are still pending.

According to the lawsuit:

“Plaintiffs have lost promotions that had already been announced, received official discipline, been barred from training opportunities, and placed in a no-pay status…”

So while members who are discharged for refusing to get the vaccine are discharged honorably, it doesn’t negate the fact that many are subject to punishments before their discharge.

Support and Defend the Constitution

Director of Military affairs for First Liberty Institute Mike Berry said of the members fighting to stay in uniform:

“…military leaders are forcing tens of thousands of our bravest out of the service because they’ve decided to live according to their faith. Religious liberty is essential to national security, and our service members deserve better.”

It’s not just Air Force members who are fighting back. A group of Navy SEALS are also fighting in the courts to keep their careers.

In March, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled to expand a preliminary injunction to stop the DOD from taking action against sailors. Judge Reed O’Connor said of his decision:

“Here, the potential class members have suffered the ‘same injury’ arising from violations of their constitutional rights. Each has submitted a religious accommodation request, and each has had his request denied, delayed, or dismissed on appeal.”

Here comes the kicker:

“…it is hard to imagine a more consistent display of discrimination as explained in this Court’s preliminary injunction order, Plaintiffs have suffered the serious injury of infringement of their religious liberty rights under RFRA and the First Amendment.”

So you might’ve raised your right hand to swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Still, it doesn’t apply to you if you have a religious objection to government law.

After all, the “Constitution isn’t absolute,” as some of our politicians try to convince us.

In total, all four military branches have discharged nearly 4,000 active duty service members over the COVID vaccine mandate.

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But It’s About Readiness, Right?

The decision to mandate the COVID vaccine for service members was born out of a need to maintain a ready force. When the military uses this term, they are focused on the ability to deploy.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in a memo:

“To defend this nation, we need a healthy a ready force.”

No doubt, I couldn’t agree more. After 20 years of service, I was stuck with more vaccines than I could count. Flu shots, TB, Yellow Fever, Anthrax, Small Pox, and COVID, among others, I’m sure I have forgotten.

My opinion has been and always will be that the military’s job is to take the fight to the bad guys. That means deploying at a moment’s notice and being as lethal as possible.

However, with 97% of the military vaccinated against COVID, it seems strange to argue that the small percentage with religious exemptions would degrade the military’s readiness.

Religious Exemption = Lack of Confidence?

Perhaps the most alarming case surrounds the anchoring of an East Coast guided-missile destroyer. The Commanding Officer filed a religious exemption to the COVID vaccine.

When the Navy tried to remove the Commanding Officer, a Federal judge in Florida prevented the action under the RFRA rules. So the Navy has opted to classify the destroyer as “out of commission” due to a “lack of confidence” in the CO’s ability to lead.

Vice Admiral Daniel Dwyer, Commander of the United States Second Fleet, said of the court’s decision:

“The court’s order effectively requires the Navy to leave a subordinate commander in command of a warship, despite his senior officer’s questions relating to his fitness to discharge his duties as ordered.”

So the message is if you stand by your faith that guides you and is very much a part of your fiber as a human being, you may be an unfit leader? Standing up for your religious rights makes you unfit to lead?

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Some Food for Thought

Back to the young Air Force Academy cadets. While they will graduate with their undergraduate degrees, they may have to pay back the steep tuition.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall will determine if the cadets need to “reimburse the United States for education costs in lieu of service.” Part of the deal to attend a military academy is to get your college education for free, provided you serve a set amount of time in uniform.

Since they will not be commissioned, they will not serve. But I mean, the Biden administration will forgive student loans anyway, so what’s the big deal, right?

An Obama administration study found that the average transgender soldier would spend 238 days recovering from sex-change surgery, making them nondeployable during that time frame. The Palm Institute estimated in 2018 that 14,700 transgender troops were serving active duty and reserves.

That’s roughly 3,498,600 days nondeployable if they receive sex-change surgery. That’s 9,585 years.

But it’s about readiness, right?

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