Air Force officers sue over religious exemption denials
Toledo, Ohio (AP) — A dozen U.S. Air Force officers have filed a lawsuit against the federal government after the military denied their religious exemptions to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine.
The officers, mostly from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, along with a handful of airmen and reservists, accused the Air Force of using a double standard when approving the requests.
The Air Force, according to the lawsuit filed last week, had allowed more than 3,000 medical and administrative exemptions but only nine religious exemptions.
“The granting of more than one thousand medical and administrative exemptions belies any assertion that vaccination is mission-critical and that no exemptions can be granted,” the lawsuit said.
A message seeking comment on the lawsuit was left with an Air Force spokesperson Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and military leaders have said the vaccine is critical to maintaining military readiness and the health of the force. But members of Congress, the military and the public have questioned if the exemption reviews have been fair.
Combined, the services have received more than 14,000 requests for religious accommodations. The Marine Corps had allowed three as of last week while the Army and Navy had not approved any.
At least 97% of the troops in each service have gotten at least one shot, while those who refuse can face discipline up to being discharged from the service.
Those who filed the lawsuit in Ohio said they had followed their chain of command and each had talked with an Air Force chaplain to determine the sincerity of their beliefs.
Many also said they already had been infected with COVID-19 and that antibody tests show they now have natural immunity, according to the lawsuit.