LC Files Brief for Air Force Cadet Hearing on Shot Mandate

Apr 27, 2022

TAMPA, FL — Liberty Counsel filed a supplemental memorandum today in Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin in support of a preliminary injunction for a U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet who faced immediate discipline after being denied his appeal for a religious accommodation from the COVID shot mandate. The preliminary injunction hearing is tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. before federal Judge Steven Merryday. 

The Air Force admitted in the denial of his religious accommodation request that in his “current position, being unvaccinated may not have a large impact locally. . .” Yet, the Air Force is willing to separate this Cadet who received an award for “Outstanding C4C of the Semester” for being the most outstanding cadet in the entire freshman class (approx. 1,070 cadets).

The Cadet is a Christian with sincerely held religious beliefs that compel him to abstain from accepting or receiving anything that has connection to abortion. When Cadet learned that the COVID-19 injections were associated with aborted fetal cell lines, he determined that it would be a sin for him to accept it. When he was informed of the shot mandate, Cadet was required to attend counseling with his commanding officer concerning his religious accommodation “to discuss if [he] even qualif[ies] and what the process is.” The Cadet’s command then informed him that he should “manage his expectations” because he would not be receiving a religious accommodation from the mandate. The Cadet submitted a request for a religious accommodation, and he received word from his command on September 10, 2021 that the review board had recommended his religious accommodation request for disapproval. The Cadet’s command further informed him that his “chances of it being approved are looking slim” and that nobody who had submitted a request for religious accommodation had been approved. Cadet formally received the denial of his request for religious accommodation on December 22, 2021. 

On March 30, 2022, the Air Force ordered the Cadet to choose between the shot or “voluntary” resignation from the Air Force Academy within five calendar days or face “disciplinary action” and “initiation of administrative separation.” The Air Force then extended the Cadet’s compliance deadline to April 25. 

The Cadet testified, “After I initiated the process to request a religious accommodation from vaccination, I had a counseling with my commander on August 13, 2021, with the stated purpose ‘to discuss if you even qualify and what the process is.’ My commander, however, did not discuss the process or possible accommodations with me. Instead, he ‘managed my expectations’ by constantly telling me I would not win; by recommending an AF Form 34 (Discharge from the Air Force) if I would not get the vaccine; and by attempting to guilt trip me into getting the vaccine.” 

Judge Merryday has now granted injunctions for four service members who were denied religious exemptions from the COVID shot mandate. The court based its ruling on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), finding that the Marines and the Navy failed to demonstrate “to the individualized person” two of RFRA’s essential requirements on government action that burdens a person’s sincere religious belief – a compelling interest and the least restrictive means. This conclusion alone will essentially undo the blanket requirement placed on service members to get the COVID shots when such action burdens their sincere religious beliefs. 

Liberty Counsel has already asked Judge Merryday to certify the entire class of the military and provide relief from the unlawful shot mandates to all class members in every branch. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Tomorrow we will go back to court to fight for yet another courageous service member’s religious freedom. We pray for a victory as well as relief from the unlawful shot mandates to all class members in every branch.” 

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