Friday, May 20, 2022

Court Denies Relief To Air Force Members With Religious Objections To COVID Vaccine

In a 61-page opinion in Roth v. Austin, (D NE, May 18, 2022), a Nebraska federal district court denied a preliminary injunction to 36 members of the Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard who have religious objections to complying with the military's COVID vaccine mandate. The court said in part:

One objection made by several airmen is that part of the science giving rise to approved COVID19 vaccines involved use of research derived from aborted fetal cell tissue that was developed decades ago. Certain major religions of the world have long strenuously objected to the use of such research in medicine. However, having lost that battle in significant regard over the decades, many of those same religions have concluded that the remote impact of what they deem to be religiously or ethically objectionable research utilized for the vaccines does not support refusal to take the vaccines on religious grounds today....

The Court concludes, at least at this preliminary stage, that the Air Force has demonstrated it has a compelling interest in the health and readiness of its forces, including individual service members like Plaintiffs. The Court also concludes that the Air Force’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest, as to both the Air Force generally and as to individual Plaintiffs in particular. The Air Force has demonstrated that its process for consideration of religious exemptions was not simply “theater” or “a sham,” but was a process that adhered to the requirements of the law, most specifically RFRA. These conclusions mean that Plaintiffs do not have sufficient likelihood of success on the merits of either their RFRA claim or their Free Exercise of Religion claim to warrant issuance of a preliminary injunction.

Yesterday a notice of appeal to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals was filed.