Judge Certifies Air Force Class Action Protecting Servicemembers from Wrongful Separation
A federal judge has advanced a class action lawsuit consisting of all active and reserve Air Force servicemembers with religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate and granted a preliminary injunction protecting those airmen from being discharged as their case progresses.
In March, the Pelican Center for Justice filed suit in the Western District of Louisiana on behalf of Senior Airman Faith Crocker to protect her from separation or retaliation for her sincerely held religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Pelican amended its complaint in May to add six other Louisiana airmen threatened by vaccine mandate separations. On Monday, August 1st, the government’s lawyers moved to stay the case brought by Airman Crocker and other servicemembers in recognition that this ruling covered the Barksdale servicemembers.
Pelican argues, on behalf of the plaintiffs, that these exceptional servicemembers should not have to choose between their faith and service to their country. At a time of growing international threats and plummeting recruitment rates, separating experienced airmen for nothing more than their respectful, religious declination of the COVID-19 vaccine is an infringement on their First Amendment rights and poses a major risk to national security.
One of the plaintiffs protected, Lt. Col. Christopher Duff, has had a highly decorated career in the Air Force as a B-52 Squadron Commander with the 96th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base. He has led multiple deployments the world over, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his extensive training is irreplaceable. Lt. Col. Duff, a devout Roman Catholic, carefully studied the vaccine’s development process and prayerfully decided he could not take it. He potentially faces an involuntary discharge and the loss of millions of dollars in retirement benefits if he is unable to serve a minimum of twenty years.
“This ruling, from a very courageous Judge, is a significant step in the right direction,” said Duff.  “Our military services value integrity above all, illustrated by ‘Integrity First’ being the first of the Air Force core values. An individual’s faith is the fundamental cornerstone of an individual’s integrity. They cannot be separated. That is why service members like myself are in the situation we are in: we value our faith and our personal integrity above all else and are not prepared to sacrifice them for professional gain in our careers. I personally believe that to do so would violate the oath I took 17 years ago.”
This decision supports the religious liberty rights of the Barksdale servicemembers. But the battle is not yet over. Ultimately, the Supreme Court must do the right thing for the security of our nation and the religious liberty rights of all servicemembers.
 Comments by Mr. Duff are made off-duty and in a personal capacity and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense.