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Air Force Approves Just 9 Religious Exemptions, Judge Extends Emergency Order Against Military in Broader Case

An Air Force F-16 Viper lands after completing routine training at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Feb. 7, 2022. (Image credit: Air Force Airman 1st Class Jessica Sanchez/Department of Defense)

The Air Force this week became the second U.S. military branch to finally approve a handful of religious exemptions to the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine order, granting requests from nine airmen to avoid the shots.

According to its weekly COVID-19 update, the Air Force said eight requests were approved, while one was granted after an appeal.

The service still has 2,556 religious exemption requests pending with 732 on appeal. The Air Force has so far turned down 3,222 requests and 443 that were on appeal.  

As of Feb. 7, the Air Force had "administratively separated" 142 active-duty airmen, forcing them out of the service.

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The approved airmen are just a tiny fraction of the more than 6,400 requested exemptions by Air Force personnel. Other service members are challenging the lack of religious exemptions in several court cases. The Marine Corps is the only other military service to grant any religious accommodations, allowing just three so far. The Army and Navy have not approved any.

As CBN News reported, the Pentagon ordered all service members — active-duty, National Guard, and Reserves — to get the vaccine, saying it is critical to maintaining the health and readiness of the force. COVID-19 cases remain high around the country after the massive surge due to the omicron variant.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Army said it would immediately begin discharging soldiers who have refused to get the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, putting more than 3,300 service members at risk of being discharged soon.

All military branches have come under criticism for their failure to grant religious exemptions, with members of Congress, the military, and the public questioning if the review processes have been fair. 

Altogether, the services have received more than 24,000 requests for religious exemptions, according to the Liberty Counsel, a Christian religious rights law firm. Only a dozen have now been granted.

As CBN News reported Tuesday, a federal judge in Tampa issued a temporary restraining order against the U.S. military, saying the Department of Defense is unlawfully discriminating against service members by denying religious exemptions for COVID-19 shots.  

After a nine-hour hearing on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday extended the temporary restraining order for two service members as a result of Liberty Counsel's request for an emergency injunction in Navy SEAL 1 v. Biden

Judge Merryday pressed the Department of Justice counsel about the fact that the military is not showing that removing service members is the least restrictive means available. The judge also noted that he has to weigh the adverse impact of removing a highly qualified and skilled service member who is not easily replaceable against the minimal if any, the benefit of a "vaccine" in view of the fact that it is not preventing the transmission of Omicron. 

Merryday pointed out that the military is now at its highest rate of vaccinated service members and also at the highest rate of COVID cases. With the shot not preventing transmission, "why," he asked, "cannot a small number of service members remain unvaccinated because of their religious beliefs?" 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, "Yesterday's hearing is a positive step toward finally putting an end to this abuse of the law and of our military personnel. It is shameful how the military is treating these honorable service members. This abuse must stop. These heroes sacrifice everything to defend our freedom, and we are honored to defend them."

While the hearing focused on two military members who faced imminent discipline, the court also has a request to grant relief for all the plaintiffs and a request to certify a class action case to cover all military members who submitted religious accommodation requests.

Do you or a family member serve in the United States Armed Forces? Do you have questions about the unique challenges faced by the military and their families? Would you like special devotions geared to military life?

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