Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Marine With Religious Objections To COVID Vaccine Is Denied Preliminary Injunction

In Short v. Berger, (D AZ, April 22, 2022), an Arizona federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction to a Marine Corps major who was denied a religious exemption from the military's COVID vaccine mandate.  Plaintiff is serving as a staff judge advocate.  According to the court:

To date, the USMC has received over 3,600 requests for a religious exemption from the vaccine requirement but has approved only seven of those requests. It appears that, in all seven cases, the applicant was already in the process of separating from the Marines at the time the request was granted. In contrast, the USMC has approved over 900 medical exemptions, including at least 20 permanent medical exemptions.

The court went on:

In his motion for preliminary injunction, Major Short conspicuously does not assert that separation, loss of training and promotion opportunities, loss of pay, and/or a less-than-honorable discharge constitute irreparable injuries.... Instead, the sole theory of irreparable harm articulated in Major Short’s motion is that “being forced to choose between receiving the injection contrary to his religious beliefs, or defying an order, is itself a denial of free exercise, and directly causes irreparable harm.” ... [T]he tangible employment-related harms that Major Short may suffer ... do not qualify as irreparable under Ninth Circuit law because they can be remedied through retrospective relief....  

As for Major Short’s coercion theory, the Court acknowledges that, in many of the recent military vaccine challenges arising outside the Ninth Circuit, courts have suggested that a service member suffers an irreparable injury the moment he is forced to choose between following his religious beliefs and following an order to be vaccinated.... But however persuasive those cases might otherwise be, this Court must follow Ninth Circuit law and the Ninth Circuit has not adopted—and, indeed, appears to have rejected—this theory of irreparable harm....

The court also concluded that beyond the irreparable injury issue, there was uncertainty as to whether Plaintiff would succeed on his RFRA claim.