Last Thursday, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction that would prevent the US Air Force from enacting penalties, disciplinary action, and dismissals against 12 Air Force officers who had previously filed religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine. The disapproved religious exemptions would later evolve into a lawsuit over the vaccine objections filed last February. The vaccine was deemed mandatory by the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III last year to prevent the spread of the deadly virus among the various US military branches.

These 12 US Air Force officers, and several airmen and reservists, mostly from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base based in Fairborn, Ohio, filed their lawsuit against the federal government last February as their religious exemptions were denied by their superiors.

According to them, the Air Force had a double standard in approving the requests as 3,000 medical and administrative exemptions were allowed, and just nine religious exemptions from the vaccine were approved as of the date of their filling. They also claimed that those who had been infected with COVID-19 in the past and had survived were naturally immune to the disease, along with their religious concerns over the vaccines.

Three of the plaintiffs claimed that they did not want to be vaccinated as it violates the Christian doctrines regarding abortion. It would violate the holy rules as they claimed that some COVID-19 vaccines were developed using laboratory-grown aborted fetal tissue. Lt. Col. Edward Joseph Stapanon III, one of the plaintiffs, claimed that this would violate his Catholic faith in the process. However, the Vatican itself said that it was morally acceptable to take vaccines that had used cells from aborted fetuses.

In response, US District Court Judge Matthew McFarland in Cincinnati, Ohio, has granted a preliminary injunction to stop any disciplinary actions for the 12 Air Force officers, the airmen, and reservists until the case is resolved.

However, an article by Nebraska Medicine written by Dr. James Lawler (a practicing Catholic) said that the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells as they were thousands of generations removed from the original tissue. He does admit that the fetal cells grown in a laboratory were based on aborted fetal cells collected from the 70s and the 80s. These cells were used by Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna during their research and development stage.

Furthermore, Pfizer and Moderna only used these cells to test the efficacy of both vaccines and did not use them in the production of the vaccine itself. However, Johnson and Johnson did use these cells for production and manufacturing, as announced by a North Dakota Health Handout related to COVID-19.

A person, wearing gloves and a surgical mask, handles a COVID-19 Vaccine vial and syringe (United States Census, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:COVID-19_Vaccine_vial_and_syringe_-_US_Census.jpg
A person, wearing gloves and a surgical mask, handles a COVID-19 Vaccine vial and syringe (United States Census, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

With that being said, it is also important to note that the servicemen do have a basis for their concerns as they are valid; the Constitution does guarantee the exercise of religion. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a law that prohibits the federal government and the states from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the application of the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest.” In applying the law, the Supreme Court determined that laws are unconstitutional if they are inconsistent with the free-exercise clause pertaining to the exercise of religion unless they serve a compelling governmental interest.

The recent injunction is not an isolated case. In January, SOFREP reported that a federal judge in Texas also granted a preliminary injunction that would also stop any disciplinary actions against 35 US Navy servicemen who objected to being vaccinated based on religious grounds. This was due to findings that the Pentagon’s waiver process was designed to refuse all waivers as the first 15 steps were in preparation for a letter of denial. Step 35 is when an administrator reads the actual request for the waiver. According to the court, this has led to the Navy not granting any religious-based objections to vaccines in the last seven years.

Judge Reed O’Conner, who issued the injunction, also found that the Navy would likely be violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the Navy had treated those who applied for a religious waiver differently from those who applied for medical and administrative waivers. Reports also surfaced that service members who were waiting for the results of their waiver applications had been treated unfairly.

These individuals were said to be assigned to difficult work schedules, menial jobs, relieved of leadership duties, and denied opportunities to advance in their careers, with some Navy SEALs being kicked out of their platoons. This would indicate some form of maltreatment within the military, as no one that had applied for a medical waiver was subjected to this kind of treatment.

Last week, O’Connor had agreed that the case could go forward as a class-action lawsuit and again issued a preliminary injunction. However, this time, it covered some 4,000 sailors who also objected to being vaccinated on religious grounds.

The US Military and Rationale For Vaccinations

It can be remembered that the Pentagon had mandated all US service members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 following the FDA’s approval of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines in August 2021.

According to a memo from Defense Secretary Austin dated last August 2021, Austin said that the vaccine was necessary to defend the United States and that there is a need to have a healthy and ready force.

“I, therefore, direct the Secretaries of the Military Departments to immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces under DoD authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” said the memorandum.

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the press from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Washington, D.C., Feb. 19, 2021. (U.S. Secretary of Defense, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lloyd_J._Austin_(2021).jpg
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the press from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Washington, DC, Feb. 19, 2021. (DoD Photo by US Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders) (US Secretary of Defense, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

He also said that mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all service members. They do have mandatory inoculations as a regular requirement of being in the military, which is very much true.

Vaccinations for military members are required and an important element of protecting a service member’s health, especially when deployed to countries with a plethora of dangerous diseases. For example, it’s possible to get a disease just by eating contaminated food or water or being bitten by an insect or mosquito that carries the virus.

Special vaccinations are also required when deploying to specific countries or continents. When deployed to Africa, service members would need to get vaccinated for Chickenpox, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Influenza, Measles-Mumps-Rubella, Meningococcal, Pneumococcal, Polio, Rabies, Tdap, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever.

Getting assigned to the Indo-Pacific? Soldiers are going to have to get vaccinations for Anthrax, Chickenpox, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, two Influenza shots for the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere (depends on which country you’re going to), Japanese encephalitis, Measles-Mumps-Rubella, Pneumococcal, Polio, Rabies, Tdap, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever.

Furthermore, it is very much a way of protecting fellow servicemen when in service, whether domestic or abroad.

As pointed out by SOFREP Editor-in-chief Sean Spoonts earlier in 2021, mandatory vaccines are just part of military service, just like uniform and grooming regulations. It’s part of serving in the United States military that certain portions of service members’ liberties are voluntarily surrendered when individuals sign up.  But that is not a blanket waiver of all rights of conscience.  There are times when legitimate religious liberty concerns are raised when certain vaccinations violate the conscience of servicemembers.  In the case of the COVID-19 vaccinations, service members have requested religious exemptions on the basis that all used fetal stem cells from aborted babies in either their research or production phases.  This use of such cells in drugs and vaccines has long been a subject of controversy for various religious sects in this country.

What Are the Current COVID-19 Vaccination Stats for the US Military?

As of March 2022, the Air Force reported that 98% of active personnel were fully vaccinated, with 0.1 being partially vaccinated. The DoD reports that 455,575 are fully vaccinated while 41,829 were partially vaccinated; these numbers include the Space Force. If we include the reserve and guard forces, the statistic is 96.4% fully vaccinated. Approved medical exemptions are at 1,164 in total, with the administrative exemptions at 1,500 in total.

As for the religious accommodation requests, 21 were approved, 4,222 were disapproved, and 3,260 were pending. 212 active duty airmen were administratively separated from the US Air Force. Judges hearing cases filed by service members have found a pattern of the military having a waiver request system that seems designed to refuse accommodation at the outset as the multi-step process begins with processing a denial before any consideration is given to the actual request.

Col. Craig Prather, 47th Flying Training Wing commander receives the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Feb. 05, 2021, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. Prather received the COVID-19 vaccine to better protect his Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt Rachael Parks). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6514881/covid-19-vaccinations-underway-laughlin-air-force-base
Col. Craig Prather, 47th Flying Training Wing commander, received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 05, 2021, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. Prather received the COVID-19 vaccine to better protect his Airmen. (DVIDS, US Air Force photo by 2nd Lt Rachael Parks)

As of March 24, 2022, the US Army had announced that it achieved a 97% vaccination rate for its active army and 87% for its reserves. Approved medical exemptions were at 20. Religious exemptions stood at 2 approved, 770 disapproved, with 4,034 requests. On March 31, they reported that 90 soldiers had been “separated” from the army as they have refused the COVID-19 vaccines.

“To date, Army commanders have relieved a total of six Regular Army leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 3,293 general officer written reprimands to Regular Army Soldiers for refusing the vaccination order,” the statement read.

As of March 31, the US Navy reports that only 4,282 active members and 3,267 reserves remain unvaccinated. There are 13 approved medical exemptions, with 0 approved for religious accommodation. However, there are 3,323 requests from active duty personnel for religious accommodation. As mandated by the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, no service member can be separated as these processes are suspended until further notice. However, there have been 732 separations due to vaccination refusal.

The US Marine Corps, as of Feb. 2022, has reported that 96% of its active personnel were fully vaccinated, with 1% partially vaccinated. March statistics state that 196,591 members of the Marine Corps were fully vaccinated, and only 6,195 were partially vaccinated. The Marine Corps leads the military branches for the most separations at 1,038 as of March.

In the United States, more than 217.9 million have been vaccinated. People dying from the COVID-19 vaccine have been reported to be very rare. The FDA requires health providers to report any adverse effects from any related incidents from the vaccine intake to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Only 13,637 reports, or 0.0024%, were reported to die. However, this does not mean that the vaccine was the cause of the death, as some people had existing medical conditions before getting vaccinated. Causal relationships between COVID-19 vaccination and death remain few, with 9 deaths causally associated with Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.