By Ashley Carnahan
The Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal from a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve on Monday who refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus due to religious reasons.
Three conservative Supreme Court justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch — indicated they would have granted Lt. Col. Jonathan Dunn’s request for an injunction, preventing him from being discharged or punished by the Air Force, pending his case’s appeal in the lower courts, Forbes reported.
Dunn said he contracted COVID-19 in the summer of 2021, acquiring natural immunity. His lawyers argued in an April 11 appeal to Justice Elena Kagan that the military vaccine mandate violated their defendant’s faith, writing it has taken on a “symbolic” and even “sacramental quality.”
The defense lawyers argued the COVID-19 vaccine was made into a “religious ritual” that was “required as a condition of participating fully in civil society — like ancient Roman laws requiring sacrifices to Caesar, or Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘edict requiring worship of the golden statue.’” “After much prayer, [the] applicant concluded that he ‘cannot participate in such a religious ritual’— and thus cannot take the vaccine — because, as a Christian, he must ‘render worship to God only,’” the appeal text stated.
The Air Force veteran was removed from his command and could face additional punishment from the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for failing to adhere to the military-wide health policy, requiring all U.S. service members to be vaccinated, according to a Department of Defense memo. (RELATED: US Air Force Denies Over 2,100 Religious Exemption Requests From Vaccine Requirement)
A statement from the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs said service members may face punishment under the UCMJ for “any refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, absent an approved exemption or accommodation.” Dunn could be relieved of his duties or face discharge, according to Military.com.
Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the U.S. solicitor general, told the justices the Air Force has a “compelling interest” in requiring Dunn to be vaccinated because his unit is “designed to be deployable worldwide with just 72 hours notice.”
Prelogar added that Dunn had exhibited “poor judgment” and “abuse of authority” that justified his removal from command for reasons independent of his refusal to be vaccinated.
Dunn joined the military in 2003, flying combat missions and serving three tours in Afghanistan, according to his lawyers.