The District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Air Force’s vaccine mandate on religious freedom grounds.
Judge Matthew W. McFarland granted the motion to extend a court order from March 31 that had prohibited the Air Force from retaliating against the plaintiffs who had filed religious exemption requests.
The temporary restraining order (TRO) is an emergency measure to extend the prior ruling for up to 14 days while the judge weighs granting a preliminary injunction (PI) throughout the litigation process.
If the judge rules the Air Force’s vaccine mandate is illegal, the court will issue a PI covering all of these service members while the Biden administration appeals the decision to the Sixth Circuit appellate court.
Judge McFarland, a Trump appointee, gave his reasoning for issuing the TRO against the Air Force’s vaccine mandate.
“Following such denials, the Air Force had received 3,837 appeals from Airmen whose initial religious accommodation requests were denied,” the judge noted. “As of June 6, 2022, the Air Force has granted only 23 of those appeals, denying 2,978. A quick calculation shows that the Air Force, either through initial requests or appeals, have granted approximately 1 % of religious accommodation requests between September 1, 2021, when the Air Force vaccine requirement went into effect, and June 6, 2022.”
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“Despite the Air Force’s apparent policy and practice of denying virtually all religious accommodation requests, the Air Force has granted 729 medical exemption requests and 1,006 administrative exemption requests since implementing its COVID-19 vaccination requirement policy September 1, 2021,” he added.
In his conclusion, the judge issued the following orders to the Air Force.
“Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification (Doc. 21) is GRANTED,” the judge decided. “Such class SHALL consist of active-duty and active reserve members 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 and is currently under command and could be deployed, who: (i) submitted a religious accommodation request to the Air Force from the Air Force’s 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 by or through Air Force Chaplains; and (iii) either had their requested accommodation denied or have not had action on that request.”
“The Court ISSUES a TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER prohibiting Defendants from enforcing the vaccine mandate against any Class Member, to expire 14 days from the entry of this Order,” the judge added.
“Defendants are ORDERED to file a supplemental brief, no later than July 21, 2022 and no more than ten (10) pages in length identifying why this Court should not grant a class-wide preliminary injunction,” he continued. “Plaintiffs may file a response, limited to ten (10) pages, to Defendants’ supplemental brief by July 25, 2022. IT IS SO ORDERED.”
The entire court decision can be read below:
The Air Force now has 14 days to explain to the judge why he shouldn’t issue an injunction.
It looks like Trump appointees are once again ruling on behalf of the Constitution, rather than in favor of the Biden administration’s political preferences. There may be hope for America yet.
OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.