On Tuesday, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous injunction that protected members of the United States Air Force from being disciplined for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine for religious reasons.
In February, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Air Force service members seeking religious-liberty exemptions to the vaccine mandate put in place by the Biden administration, Alabama Attorney General Marshall said.
"In March, a federal district court ruled in their favor, placing a preliminary injunction barring the Air Force from disciplining any member for claiming a religious-liberty exemption to the vaccine mandate," he added.
The Air Force challenged the injunction in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, causing attorneys general from Alabama and other states to enter briefs in support of the airmen.
According to the court opinion upholding the injunction, the Air Force granted no religious exemptions to anyone who did not plan to leave the service within a year. Also, the court claimed the Air Force "provided no statistics on the total number of medical or administrative exemptions that personnel have requested or that it has granted since the inception of the vaccine mandate."
The Air Force also stated the plaintiffs did not satisfy the governing standards under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which the court denied outright.
Further, the Air Force claimed that the court abused its discretion by granting the injunction in the first place.
"The Air Force's bare-bones argument does nothing to show that the district court abused its discretion by temporarily prohibiting it from engaging in 'any disciplinary or separation measures against the members of the Class for their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,'" wrote Judge Eric E. Murphy in his opinion.
This is not the only suit involving religious exemptions for military service members.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor prevented the Department of Defense (DOD) from removing 0.6% of all Navy service members, including the group of 35 Navy SEALs, who requested a religious accommodation to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
O'Connor ruled that the DOD had violated the sailors' constitutional right to refuse the vaccine based on their religious beliefs.
After the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals did not block O'Connor's ruling, the Biden administration filed an emergency application in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).
In March, SCOTUS restored the Navy's right to consider vaccination status when determining the careers of its servicemembers.
Marshall also introduced a brief in support of the sailors seeking religious exemptions.
Marshall was joined by attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming in filing a brief in support of the airmen.
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