CINCINNATI — Eighteen members of the U.S. Air Force have filed suit in Federal District Court in Cincinnati against top military leaders over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The suit, which included 11 members serving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, claimed the Air Force is violating the religious rights of those in the suit. The suit was filed on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.
"The action involves the systemic effort of the defendants, and those who report to them, to flagrantly violate federal law, and specifically the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act ... in a concerted effort to violate the rights of members of the Air and Space Force," the complaint stated.
The complaint alleged the military is citing force protection requirements as its reason for denying religious exemptions, violating the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. It said the Department of the Air Force had only approved a small number of religious exemptions and "those requests, upon information and belief, are for airmen who are close to the terminal end of their service."
Among those filing suit against the Air Force are one Colonel and five Air Force reservists. Attorney Chris Wiest, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the branch has allowed thousands of vaccine exemptions for medical and administrative claims, but not for religious exemptions.
"There has been a systemic denial on religious grounds, while they've filed thousands (of exemptions) for medical reasons," Wiest said. "There's been four or five injunctions filed against the military in just the last few weeks. Virtually every time they have denied (religious exemptions), they've claimed force protection and readiness levels. But if that were the case they wouldn't be doing the other denials."
The defendants listed in the suit are Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Surgeon General of the Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Miller and other top branch leadership. The plaintiffs are wanting the court to rule the orders are unconstitutional, have their attorney's fees be paid and the court to issue preliminary injunctions or restraining orders blocking punitive action against the defendants by the military.
A similar case involving an Air Force reservist stationed at Wright-Patt - Poffenbarger v. Kendall - will have a hearing in district court in Dayton on Tuesday at 10 a.m.