On Wednesday, a federal judge in Georgia ruled in favor of an anonymous Air Force officer who refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine as per the Air Force’s mandate, scoring another victory for freedom of religion.
According to CNN, Judge Tilman Self issued a preliminary injunction forbidding both the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force from enforcing its vaccine mandate on the female officer, who sought a religious exemption from the vaccine.
The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group that is representing the officer, announced the victory as the first time ever that an injunction has successfully blocked the military’s vaccine mandate from being forced on an individual. The officer in question first applied for a religious exemption in the fall of 2021, only for her request to be denied. Her initial appeal was also denied, and she was given three days to choose between getting the vaccine or early retirement, ultimately choosing to retire after 25 years.
In his ruling, Judge Self asked “What real interest can our military leaders have in furthering a requirement that violates the very document they swore to support and defend?”
“All Americans, especially the Court, want our country to maintain a military force that is powerful enough to thoroughly destroy any enemy who dares to challenge it,” Self continued. “However, we also want a military force strong enough to respect and protect its service members’ constitutional and statutory religious rights. This ruling ensures our armed services continue to accomplish both.”
The mandate, first announced in August of 2021, has been enforced on every branch of the United States military, on the orders of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. Both men have repeatedly and falsely claimed that the vaccine is essential to the “health and readiness” of the military.
In response to the ruling, the Air Force said that it would obey the court’s order, for now, “until the matter is legally resolved.”
The ruling could be the catalyst for an even greater number of challenges to the military’s vaccine mandates. There have already been thousands of applications for exemptions from the vaccine mandate, most of which have been denied. Although over 96 percent of the Air Force have been vaccinated, including reserves, active duty, and Air Force National Guard, there have been over 6,000 requests for religious exemptions, of which 3,381 have been denied, 2,664 are pending, and just eight have been approved.