Tuesday’s preliminary injunction shields the officer from forced retirement for refusing a coronavirus vaccination until a final ruling is made. She objects to the vaccines “because of their connection to abortion,” according to her attorneys. Cell lines used in the production of vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration are reproductions of fetal cells from abortions done in the 1970s and ’80s; the shots themselves do not contain fetal cells.
In a statement, the nonprofit law firm representing the officer said she has natural immunity from a previous coronavirus infection. She has also been willing to work remotely and take periodic coronavirus tests, it said.
She “Is compliant with masking, social distancing, and other practices, and, most importantly, has deeply held religious convictions against the vaccine. She sincerely believes that receiving one of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines would violate her conscience and would be contrary to her faith, ”the Thomas More Society said.
The Pentagon and Air Force last year rejected her request for religious exemption, citing the military’s compelling interest in “maintaining the health and readiness” of its troops. The officer sued in January.
Judge Tilman E. Self of the U.S. District Court in Macon, Ga., Sided with the officer.
“All Americans, especially the Court, want our country to maintain a military force that is powerful enough to thoroughly destroy any enemy who dares to challenge it,” Self said in the ruling. “However, we also want a military force strong enough to respect and protect its service members’ constitutional and statutory religious rights.”
Fewer than a dozen Air Force members had received religious exemptions as of Feb. 4, though more than 1,500 medical exemptions have been given. The religious exemptions were granted in recent weeks, according to the attorneys for the Air Force officer.
“After we filed, [the Air Force] suddenly decided to start granting or claiming to grant religious exemptions, albeit only a handful, ”said Stephen Crampton, a senior counsel with the Thomas More Society.
As of Jan. 31, the Air Force had rejected 2,787 religious-exemption requests, court documents show. The Marines, the only branch to precede the Air Force in granting religious exemptions, had denied 3,212 of the 3,350 religious requests it had received by mid-January, the Associated Press reported.