Supreme Court denies claim by Air Force officer who told his CO ‘Nuts’



The Supreme Court handed a second straight defeat to a service member seeking exemption from the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine warrant, rejecting an appeal by an Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel who, when he ordered to be vaccinated, sent a note to his commanding officer which read: “HAZELNUTS!”

Lt. Col. Jonathan Dunn’s one-word memo got him fired from his command, but his argument in the high court tried to turn the tables on the idea of ​​a religious exemption, arguing that the mandate of the vaccine itself had become “a religious ritual”. required as a condition for full participation in civil society.

A series of lower court rulings have given some hope to many service members who filed lawsuits after seeking exemptions from the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but Monday’s 6-3 ruling of the Supreme Court will likely dampen the hope that most of these cases will prevail in the highest court in the land.

The April 18 decision followed Dunn’s lawsuit in District Court for the Eastern District of California, seeking a waiver of punitive relief for refusing to be vaccinated on religious grounds. When his request for a temporary injunction was denied, he appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also denied his request.

The Supreme Court refused his last request Monday. Judges Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch wrote that they would have granted the injunction.

The current judges of the Supreme Court. Judges Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas indicated that they would have granted Lt. Col. Jonathan Dunn’s request for an injunction. Photograph by Fred Schilling, United States Supreme Court Collection.

Last month, the Supreme Court declined a call of a group of Navy SEALs who opposed the vaccine on religious grounds, with the same judges dissenting. In this appeal, Austin v. US Navy SEALS 1-26, Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote, “The District Court, while undoubtedly well-meaning, actually inserted itself into the Navy’s chain of command, overriding the professional military judgments of commanders military. […] The President of the United States, not any federal judge, is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Dunn, who until his release from command led the Air Force Reserve’s 452nd Contingency Response Squadron, served in the Air Force for 18 years. Like other cases protesting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Dunn argued that denial of accommodation based on his “sincere religious belief” was a violation of his rights under the Restoration of Sanitation Act. religious freedom.

Additionally, Dunn attested that he had previously contracted the COVID-19 virus, most likely the Delta variant, and tests showed that he retained antibodies against the vaccine. Therefore, Dunn maintained that allowing him to serve would not endanger his squadron or compromise the readiness of the unit.

“Because government leaders have portrayed the vaccine as a moral obligation and relegated the unvaccinated to lower social status with diminished civil rights, he believes this particular vaccine has taken on a ‘symbolic’ and ‘sacramental quality’,” his lawyers said. said in the request. “This makes vaccination against COVID-19 a religious ritual required as a condition of full participation in civil society, like ancient Roman laws requiring sacrifices to Caesar or the “edict of Nebuchadnezzar requiring the worship of the statue golden”.

supreme court vaccine
Brig. General Anthony McAuliffe replied “NUTS” to the German demand for surrender during the Battle of the Bulge. Lt. Col. Jonathan Dunn says his use of the same phrase in response to being ordered to get a COVID-19 shot was a sign of “determination” and not disrespect. US Army photo.

After being informed by his commanding officer, Colonel Gregory Haynes, that his request for religious accommodation had been denied, and that he had five days to decide between receiving the vaccine, submitting a request for retirement which would be denied due to his ineligibility, or officially refusing the vaccine in writing, Dunn sent the senior major general in his chain of command a one-word memorandum: “NUTS!

While the “NUTS!” the response was a reference to Brig. General Anthony McAuliffe’s response to a demand for the surrender of the 101st Airborne at the Battle of the Bulge, Haynes took as a sign of disrespect and removed Dunn from command, due to “conduct and lack of judgment of Dunn following the refusal of his religious accommodation to request a remedy”.

Other cases

At least three more military vaccination cases could soon be before the Supreme Court, including Doe vs. Austin, Lembo vs. Del Toroand Navy SEAL 1 vs. Bidenall of which allege that the government illegitimately restricts the religious freedom rights of service members by failing to fairly adjudicate requests for religious accommodation.

In the case of Navy SEAL 1 c. Biden, the lower court upheld the service members’ case, with Judge Steven Merryday of the District Court for the Intermediate District of Florida, saying plaintiffs are “very likely” to prevail in their claim.

“The military is well aware of the frailty of their case to defend their practices,” Merryday wrote in his order approving a temporary injunction against punitive actions for two of the plaintiffs in the case.

supreme court vaccine
Hundreds of military personnel have now been administratively separated from the military for refusing vaccination against COVID-19. Photo taken by Staff Sgt. Matt Hecht.

Vaccine exemptions, separations

the army Approved two religious dispensations out of 4,238 requests. The service has separated 255 soldiers from the branch so far.

Marine has received 3,352 active duty requests and 852 individual ready reserve (IRR) requests for religious accommodations. It has granted 10 conditional approvals to IRR sailors, but they must be vaccinated before returning to active service. He also gave 27 endorsements to sailors who will leave the Navy before June 1. There were 804 separations for refusal of the vaccine.

air force granted 37 approvals out of 7,784 religious accommodation requests and separated 261 active-duty Airmen.

The Marine Corps, which shares its numbers with the press via email, approved seven exemptions out of 3,697 requests. And 1,787 Marines have been separated due to vaccine denial, according to media operations captain Captain Ryan Bruce.

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