A federal district court in Ohio has temporarily blocked the Biden administration from enforcing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on thousands of U.S. Air Force service members who remain unvaccinated after having opposed the shot on religious grounds but have had their religious exemption applications denied.
U.S. District Court Judge Matthew McFarland, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in late 2019, issued a temporary restraining order filed on Thursday preventing the Biden administration from taking any action for at least 14 days against any Air Force member who opted not to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
The judge’s ruling also grants the case “class status,” which means the temporary restraining order will grant relief to all members of the Air Force who submitted a religious accommodation request from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate from Sept. 1, 2021, to the present, and were confirmed via the Air Force Chaplains as having a sincerely held religious belief, but had their requests denied or not yet acted upon. Plaintiffs had contended that such a class would include over 12,000 airmen.
The action stems from a case filed in February 2022 challenging the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Plaintiffs comprise 18 active-duty members of the Air Force serving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio; Hurlburt Field in Florida; Randolph Air Force Base in Texas; and Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia, plus all similarly affected members.
“The court has already granted a preliminary injunction to our 18 original plaintiffs,” an attorney in the case, Tom Bruns of Siri & Glimstad law firm, told The Epoch Times. “The court has now granted a class certification—and that’s kind of the historic moment—Air Force-wide, service-wide, it covers every member of the Air Force. And now he’s saying, ‘Why shouldn’t I grant the preliminary injunction to all those folks?’”
McFarland wrote in his order (pdf) in granting the class status:
“They face separation from the Air Force and other disciplinary measures. A single injunction would provide relief to the entire class. Indeed, the main purpose of a [lawsuit class] is to provide relief through a single injunction or declaratory judgment. Because Defendants have uniformly maintained a policy of overriding Airmen’s religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine, they have acted ‘on grounds that apply generally to the class.’
“Moreover, the class definition requires that a Chaplain certify that the airman’s religious beliefs are sincerely held. Finally, a single injunction would provide the proposed class with the relief they seek from the harm they stand to suffer.”
McFarland gave Air Force officials until July 21 to file a response “identifying why this Court should not grant a class-wide preliminary injunction.” He also gave plaintiffs an opportunity to then file a response by July 25.
According to data from the Air Force, as of July 11, over 6,800 service members have been denied religious accommodation requests. Only 104 have had their applications approved. Meanwhile, 834 members have been “administratively separated” by the force. According to the figures, 97.1 percent of the Air Force has been fully vaccinated, and 0.1 percent has been partially vaccinated.
Nurse and Army veteran Renee Langone administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to U.S. Air Force (active duty reservist) Dr. Pei-Chun McGregor at the West Roxbury VA Medical Center in Boston, Mass., on Dec. 23, 2020. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)
McFarland’s order came in the nick of time for some airmen. Many have received notices in the last week, with a date of their final day, an airman at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska told The Epoch Times.
The Air Force wanted the airmen’s cases heard individually, but in his decision allowing class status, McFarland noted how the Air Force did not consider each case individually when denying religious accommodation requests.