The Pelican Center for Justice brought suit to challenge the Biden administration’s military COVID vaccine mandate on behalf of a Louisiana service member being forced to choose between serving her faith and serving her country. Air Force Senior Airman Faith Crocker has honorably and capably served her country at Barksdale Air Force Base for years and dreamed of a military career that could lead to becoming a pilot. The daughter of a Baptist pastor, she serves in her church and is using military tuition assistance to study for a degree in religion in her free time.

In light of her faith, Senior Airman Crocker submitted a religious accommodation request with the support of her unit and an endorsement from her chaplain noting her sincerely-held religious belief that she should not take the COVID-19 vaccine. Military leadership denied her initial request with a form letter that nonetheless conceded that her beliefs were sincere. Senior Airman Crocker appealed this decision, explaining in detail the importance of her religious beliefs to her and her unwillingness to compromise them. Once again, the military summarily denied her appeal and gave her five days to accept the vaccine or face imminent involuntary separation. Such a separation would cut short her career and her opportunity to earn a GI Bill to continue her education.

Senior Airman Crocker is not alone: service members across the country who hold sincere religious beliefs have submitted thousands of religious accommodation requests. Almost all have been denied. As of March 1 in just the Air Force, more than 4,637 religious accommodation have been denied, and only 17 have been granted – a denial rate of over 99%. These form letter denials do not take account of the individual circumstances of the service member –whether or not they have natural immunity to COVID-19 after prior infection or what particular skills and training they bring to the table. Meanwhile, those who have sought other exemptions have had them honored: as of March 1, the Air Force had granted 1,294 medical exemptions and 1,686 administrative exemptions from the DoD Vaccine Mandate. There is no reason to treat those seeking religious exemptions worse than those who seek exemption for secular reasons.

These actions come against the backdrop of increasing global threats with the breakout of war in Europe involving a nuclear adversary. The service members at Barksdale Air Force base operate a crucial part of our nuclear bomber fleet and will be critical in any conflict, yet the Biden Administration is trying to separate good service members who have years of experience and training but will not violate their consciences. All of this occurs at a time when COVID case and fatality counts have diminished to the point where Louisiana is no longer under an emergency declaration.

The actions of the Biden Administration do not comply with the protections of the First Amendment, the requirements of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the Administrative Procedure Act. The Pelican Institute is proud to stand with Senior Airman Crocker to challenge these mandates for all service members.