The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that covers the entire U.S. military is continuing to fall apart as numerous legal challenges are succeeding in federal courts and disciplinary proceedings.
In the latest setback for the Pentagon, a federal judge in Ohio issued a temporary restraining order on Thursday halting enforcement of the mandate against Air Force personnel seeking religious exemptions.
A federal judge in Texas issued a similar ruling against the Navy in March on the same grounds.
In May, a Navy administrative panel decided to retain an officer who declined to comply with the mandate and filed a religious objection. That body decided that enforcing the mandate in the face of a valid claim of religious exemption would not be legally permissible.
The officer’s attorney argued before the board that the mandate could not be enforced because the military had not made versions of the vaccines available that had been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Last month, the Air Force decided to end a court-martial proceeding against an officer who refused the vaccine on religious grounds. Master Sergeant Vincent White had been issued a non-judicial administrative punishment in April for refusing the jab. White refused to accept the administrative order, leading to the court-martial proceeding.
The Air Force has decided not to proceed to trial against White in the court-martial, but appears to intend to continue the matter before an administrative separation board. White’s attorney said that a loss before a court-martial would “set a precedent that other military judges would be likely to follow.”
The Pentagon reports that around 13% of service members are not fully vaccinated as defined by regulations. That total of almost 270,000 members does not include those who have declined to receive any of the shots. So far, only around 20,000 of the members not fully vaccinated have been granted exemptions.
The last branch to have its deadline pass was the Army National Guard. The deadline for Guardsmen was the end of last month, and around 40,000 of them and 22,000 Reservists have been cut off from military benefits. They are also now prohibited from participating in their military duties.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) have introduced bills that would prevent the use of federal funds to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for members of the National Guard.
The disruptions to force participation are coming amid significantly reduced recruiting numbers across all service branches.
Attorney R. Davis Younts has represented several service members in mandate-related proceedings, and says the vaccine requirements have damaged not only force readiness but also general morale. He added that discrimination against conservative Christians and traditional marriage has led directly to the downturn in recruiting.
Younts added that the “continued push feels extremely vindictive and political to my clients.”