U.S. District Court Judge Matthew McFarland in Cincinnati granted a preliminary injunction that protects 18 Air Force officers, airmen and reservists from the COVID shot mandate until their lawsuit is resolved.
These active duty and active reservist Airmen, stationed across the United States, sought injunctive relief from being required by the Air Force to receive the COVID-19 injections in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs and despite having applied for religious exemptions. The plaintiffs sued Air Force officials, including the Secretary and Surgeon General of the Air Force, claiming statutory and constitutional violations of their rights to free exercise of religion.
Judge McFarland wrote, “From the time our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and, later, the United States Constitution, United States citizens have been provided with the freedom to practice their religious beliefs as they deem fit. Religious liberty was just as important to those who founded this nation as it is today. As John Adams said, ‘[n]othing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.’”
“Because the Air Force has willingly and freely granted administrative and medical exemptions but refuses to grant virtually all religious exemptions, this Court finds that the Air Force has not satisfied the least-restrictive-means standard. Accordingly, Plaintiffs established that the Air Force’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate is a substantial burden on Plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs. Defendants failed to establish a compelling interest as to the specific Plaintiffs before the Court to justify the mandate, and, even if they did, Defendants failed to establish that the mandate satisfied the least-restrictive-means standard,” wrote Judge McFarland.
The Court also added, “And with a respectful nod of gratitude to the Father of our great country, this Court, as a sworn guardian of the Constitution, will not order the Air Force personnel at this stage to forfeit the protections of our laws and of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”
Citing Liberty Counsel’s case striking down COVID restrictions on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church in Kentucky, Judge McFarland wrote: “Like the Sixth Circuit held in Maryville Baptist Church, “restrictions inexplicably applied to one group and exempted from another do little to further [Defendants’] goals and do much to burden religious freedoms.”
Liberty Counsel continues to press for class certification for members of all branches of the military in the case of Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin. Last Friday, Judge Steven Merryday issued another emergency order protecting a Captain in the Marine Corps. Liberty Counsel will return to the court on April 11.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is a great victory for the religious freedom of these Air Force service members who love God and love America. We commend this Ohio court for recognizing the unconstitutional way the military is treating these honorable service members. We continue to press forward to obtain class certification relief to protect every member of the military who submitted religious accommodation requests.”