A Texas judge temporarily blocked the Army from discharging 10 unvaccinated soldiers Wednesday, court documents show, as a bill overturning the Department of Defense (DOD) vaccine mandate awaits President Joe Biden’s signature.
Every branch of the military but the Army is currently under legal prohibition from discharging thousands of servicemembers who have refused or sought exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Wednesday’s case does not grant a class certification to the plaintiffs seeking religious exemptions, meaning soldiers not included in the lawsuit could still be separated, but sets the stage for a possible service-wide injunction, according to Aaron Siri, one of the lawyers on the case.
The plaintiffs — including a First Lieutenant and five West Point cadets — sued for a stay on the DOD’s separation policy, saying they had faced adverse treatment from the Army for their refusal to take the vaccine or been deniedexemptions without proper consideration, according to the court opinion.
One defendant, Lieutenant Bakich, wrote in his exemption request that his Catholic faith “obligated” him to “consciously object to . . . any vaccine which uses aborted fetal tissue in any part of the vaccine process,” the opinion showed.
However, the defendants in the case, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, admitted “the plaintiffs have not caused a single mission failure due to their unvaccinated status,” the documents show.
The Army’s “assertion that allowing the ten named plaintiffs to remain exempt would prevent the Army from satisfying its mission defies logic and is undermined by the record,” Jude James Wesley Hendriz wrote in the opinion.
While the Army is required to carefully review exemption cases on an individual basis, the judge found Army leaders issued “generic, nearly identical” denial letters containing multiple errors, including one with the wrong name, Hendrix wrote. The letters “make clear that the Army did not conduct the necessary individualized analysis.”
Nearly 2,000 Army soldiers have lost their jobs as a consequence of spurning the mandate, according to the latest Army tally as of Dec. 16. Out of 4,437 religious exemption requests submitted by active duty members since the mandate came into effect in August 2021, the Army has granted 119.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress’ annual defense spending plan passed on Dec. 8, orders the DOD to “rescind the mandate that members of the Armed Forces be vaccinated against COVID-19” within 30 days of enactment. Biden and other senior administration leaders have continued to express support for the mandate, but the president is still expected to sign the NDAA into law.
“Despite these developments, the Army has refused to commit to halting separation proceedings against the plaintiffs by way of any agreement that this Court can enforce. And there is no real indication that separations will cease,” Hendrix warned.
The Army did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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