RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS

Air Force Class Action

Religious Rights For Military Personnel

En Banc 6th Circuit Decision Cautions Military from Violating Religious Rights of its Members

On April 17, 2023, the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order denying the Department of the Air Force’s petition for rehearing en banc of its prior decisions in favor of protecting the religious liberty of members of the Air and Space Force to refuse a Covid-19 vaccine for religious reasons.

The Honorable Judge Raymond Kethledge, joined by Judges Thapar, Bush, and Murphy stated in a concurring statement: “In this case, our opinions will stand as a caution against violating the Free Exercise rights of men and women in uniform—which, by all appearances, is what the Air Force did here.”

Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys at Siri & Glimstad LLP; Chris Wiest, Attorney at Law, PLLC; and Thomas Bruns, with Bruns, Connell, Vollmar & Armstrong, LLC.

CASE HIGHLIGHTS:

November 1, 2023: Supreme Court Reply Brief for the Petitioners

October 18, 2023: Supreme Court Filing – Respondents Brief in Opposition

August 16, 2023: Supreme Court Petition for a Writ of Certiorari Filed by the Solicitor General

April 17, 2023: Sixth Circuit Denies En Banc Hearing Request and Request to Vacate.

March 3, 2023:  The Honorable Judge McFarland STAYS the case pending the 6th Circuit’s Decisions on the Defendant’s Pending Motion. 

February 13, 2023: Defendants file a Motion with the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the panel opinion issued on November 29, 2022 and the preliminary injunction if that opinion is vacated. 

November 30, 2022: Sixth Circuit Affirms Class-Wide Preliminary Injunction and Class Certification.

September 19, 2022: The United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Air Force’s request for an emergency stay of the class-wide injunction currently protecting over 10,000 Air Force service members.

July 27, 2022: Judge McFarland extends the injunctive relief originally granted to the 18 named plaintiffs to the entire Class.  The PI expands the Class to include the National Guard and clarifies what exactly Defendants are enjoined from doing.

July 14, 2022: Judge McFarland grants Class Certification.

July 14, 2022:  Judge McFarland denies Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

April 25, 2022:  Defendants file a Motion to Dismiss.

March 31, 2022: Judge McFarland issues a preliminary injunction for the original 18 Plaintiffs.

March 2, 2022:  Plaintiffs file Motion to Certify a Class.

February 22, 2022: Plaintiffs file Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction.

February 16, 2022: Plaintiffs file.

WHAT’S NEXT:
The Honorable Judge McFarland will schedule a date for oral argument on the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the case on mootness grounds.

If you are a Class Member and are facing imminent adverse action by the Air Force, please contact us immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I am a Class Member?

You are a Class Member if you:

  1. You are an active-duty, active reserve, reserve, national guard, inductees, and appointees of the United States Air Force and Space Force, including but not limited to Air Force Academy Cadets, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Cadets, Members of the Air Force Reserve Command, and any Airman who has sworn or affirmed the United States Uniformed Services Oath of Office or Enlistment and is currently under command and could be deployed, as of July 27, 2022; AND
  2. You submitted a religious accommodation request to the Air Force from the Air Force’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, where the request was submitted or was pending, from September 1, 2021, to July 27, 2022; AND
  3. You were confirmed as having had a sincerely held religious belief substantially burdened by the Air Force’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement by or through Air Force Chaplains; AND
  4. You had your requested accommodation denied or have not had action on that request.
What does the current preliminary injunction (PI) protect me from?

Defendants, and their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and other people acting in concert or participation with them, who receive notice of this preliminary injunction, are PRELIMINARILY ENJOINED from:

(i) taking, furthering, or continuing any disciplinary or separation measures against the Members of the Class for their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, while keeping in place the current temporary exemption; such disciplinary or separation measures include, but are not limited to, “adverse administrative actions, non-judicial punishment, administrative demotions, administrative discharges, and courts-martial”; for the benefit of Defendants, this includes continuing any administrative separation or punitive processes or initiating the same.

(ii) Defendants shall not place or continue active reservists on no points, no pay status for their refusal to get vaccinated for COVID-19 due to their sincerely held religious beliefs; 

How do I reach someone at Siri & Glimstad if I have any questions about my specific situation?

First, please note that if Class Members need to take any affirmative action, we will update this page with that information.  At this time, there is nothing you must do in order to be part of the Class; if you meet the criteria of a Class Member (listed above), then you are automatically part of the Class.

If you have concerns that you are not being treated by the Air Force as a Class Member, or if you have a question specific to your situation, please call us at 458-AIR FORC (458-247-3672) or email us at airforceclassaction@sirillp.com.  We will endeavor to get back to you within 24 hours.

I read in Judge McFarland’s order that I can opt out of the class by sending an email to government counsel and class counsel, but should I?

It is your option whether to opt out of the class or not. It is important that you know that if you choose to opt out, you are removed from the class, and then we are unable to ensure your characterization of discharge, nor can we prevent any additional punitive administrative actions that may be taken against you for your alleged failure to follow a lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. We recommend that you speak with legal counsel (an Area Defense Counsel (ADC) or legal assistance attorney) before making any decision to opt out.

I read in Judge McFarland’s order that I can opt out of the class by sending an email to government counsel and class counsel, but should I?
It is your option whether to opt out of the class or not. It is important that you know that if you choose to opt out, you are removed from the class, and then we are unable to ensure your characterization of discharge, nor can we prevent any additional punitive administrative actions that may be taken against you for your alleged failure to follow a lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. We recommend that you speak with legal counsel (an Area Defense Counsel (ADC) or legal assistance attorney) before making any decision to opt out.
Are we going to receive any money from this class action if we are successful?
This lawsuit only seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. No claims for monetary damages have been filed for any class member or class representative. RFRA does permit money damages, and this class action does not prevent individuals from pursuing individual actions for that relief.

Papers Filed with the Court and Decisions