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Air Force Members File Lawsuit to Stop Punishment and Separation After Religious Accommodations from Vaccine Denied

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May 27, 2022

News Release
For Immediate Release: 5.27.22
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Air Force Members File Lawsuit to Stop Punishment and Separation After Religious Accommodations from Vaccine Denied
Plaintiffs face involuntary separation, punishment, and other adverse actions after being denied religious accommodations to Covid-19 vaccine mandate

Ft. Worth, TX—Today, First Liberty Institute and the law firm Schaerr Jaffe LLP filed a federal lawsuit seeking a class wide temporary restraining order on behalf of multiple Air Force servicemembers against the Department of Defense and Secretary of the Air Force for their religious discrimination against those seeking religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

You can read the complaint here.

“At a time of instability and ever-increasing threats around the world, you’d think the Pentagon would want every service member at their post.  But instead, military leaders are forcing tens of thousands of our bravest out of the service because they’ve chosen to live according to their faith,” said Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “Punishing these servicemembers for seeking religious accommodation is illegal, vindictive, and wrong.  Religious liberty is essential to national security, and our servicemembers deserve better.”

One of the plaintiffs, Danielle Runyan, a member of the Air Force Reserve and counsel for First Liberty added, “Like many servicemembers, I want to continue faithfully serving my country as I have proudly done for the past 10 years.  As the Supreme Court has already recognized, ‘even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.’”

Plaintiffs are part of the approximately 2% of Air Force service members who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Representing multiple faiths, they object to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.  Without consideration of the ever-changing nature of COVID-19, its variants, or natural immunity, the Air Force has rejected almost all applications for religious accommodation despite approving hundreds of medical and administrative exemptions from its vaccine requirement.

Other plaintiffs include Bryan P. Spence, currently serving as an F-16 Instructor Pilot at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas; Alan Sosebee, currently serving as Chief of Training for the 306th Flying Training Group in the 94th Flying Training Squadron at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado; Mitchell B. Pike, currently serving as an F-16 Fighter Pilot stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico; Tyler W. Stef, currently stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas; Ryan Corcoran, currently serving as Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the Deputy Chief Regional Analysis Branch, and performing his duties remotely from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; Christopher M. Wu, currently serving as Deputy Chief of the Commercial Litigation Field Support Center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland; Steven R. Hayes, currently serving as an Assistant Flight Commander/Instructor Pilot assigned to the 5th Flying Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma; and Andrew Grieb, currently serving as a T-6 Instructor/Evaluator Pilot in the 5th Flight Training Squadron at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma.

In its complaint, attorneys allege that the Department of Defense is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense regulations.  The vaccine mandate substantially burdens the servicemembers free exercise of religion, and the Department of Defense has failed to prove it has a compelling government interest, or that there are no less restrictive ways to further its effort to mitigate the Covid-19 virus.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

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