Judge prohibits Air Force from sanctioning for refusing vaccine

A US federal judge has blocked sanctions that the US Air Force was trying to impose on a dozen officers who on religious grounds were seeking exemptions from a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

The officers, mostly from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, along with a handful of pilots and reservists, filed suit in February after their waiver requests were rejected.

US District Judge Matthew McFarland in Cincinnati granted a preliminary injunction last Thursday preventing the Air Force from taking action against officers, pilots and reservists until the lawsuit is resolved.

The plaintiffs accuse the Air Force of applying a double standard regarding the approval of exemptions, pointing out that it had authorized thousands of exemptions for medical and administrative reasons but only a few for religious reasons.

Last week, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the US Navy cannot take action for now against sailors who have refused the vaccine for religious reasons.

In January, US District Judge Reed O’Connor issued an order preventing the Navy from disciplining or discharging 35 sailors who sued the Navy’s vaccination policy while their case continued. A week ago, O’Connor agreed to have the case turned into a class action lawsuit and issued a preliminary restraining order covering nearly 4,000 sailors who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year made it mandatory for members of the military to get the shot, arguing that the shot is crucial to maintaining military readiness and health. But members of Congress, the military and the public have questioned the fairness of reviews of waiver requests.

Those who refuse to be vaccinated can face penalties that could even go as far as discharge from the force.

The officers who sued in Ohio said they had respected their chain of command and each had to meet with an Air Force chaplain who would determine the sincerity of their beliefs.

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