A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday to uphold the right of U.S. Air Force members to seek religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, was joined by attorneys general in 22 other states in filing a September brief in support of the airmen’s case.
In hailing the court’s decision, Marshall asserted that Air Force personnel should not have to sacrifice religious liberty while serving in the Armed Forces.
“An airman may sacrifice much serving his country. That sacrifice should not include his right to religious liberty,” said Marshall. “We have protections in place to ensure that an Airman enjoys largely the same rights to religious liberty as his fellow citizens. Those include the Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“This appeals court ruling underscores that the religious liberty of Air Force personnel cannot be trampled by the government.”
The attorney general detailed that after the Air Force mandated service members receive the COVID-19 vaccine, nearly 10,000 branch personnel requested exemptions on religious grounds. According to Marshall, the Air Force granted only 135 exemptions, with most that qualified having been scheduled to retire soon after.
“[I]n February, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Air Force service members seeking religious-liberty exceptions to the vaccine mandate,” he said. “In March, a federal district court ruled in their favor, placing a preliminary injunction barring the Air Force from disciplining any member for claiming a religious-liberty exemption to the vaccine mandate.
“After the Air Force appealed the federal district court ruling, I joined with 20 fellow attorneys general in supporting the statutory and constitutional rights of the Airmen who were denied their rights. The victory this week in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ensures the injunction protecting religious exemptions will continue in effect for Air Force members, including those on active duty, in the reserves, in the Air National Guard, and in the Space Force.”
Alabama’s chief law enforcement officer and the 22 other attorneys general filed a brief in April before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the Defense Department’s similar failure to grant religious exemptions for military personnel from COVID-19 inoculation.
Marshall also filed an August brief supporting Navy personnel’s right to seek religious exemption from the branch’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Alabama was joined by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming in filing the brief.
Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL