US Supreme Court rules Pentagon may discipline pilot who refused COVID-19 vaccine
HakanGERMAN / Pixabay
US Supreme Court rules Pentagon may discipline pilot who refused COVID-19 vaccine

The US Supreme Court Monday ruled against Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Dunn’s plea to block disciplinary action by the Air Force against him over his religious-based refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine.

After Dunn tested positive for COVID-19 in the summer of 2021, he requested a religious exemption from the vaccine. His request was denied, and he was relieved of his command. Dunn served in multiple combat tours in Afghanistan before becoming a reserve pilot. The Department of Defense required all active-duty and reserve members to be immunized against COVID-19 in August 2021.

Dunn asked the Court to intervene on an emergency basis while his litigation continued in the lower federal courts. He alleged violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Dunn’s request for an injunction. The plea indicated that Dunn did not want to block the Air Force from making similar decisions in the future. Instead, he was seeking only to stop the Air Force from “inflicting punishments that deprive him of his First Amendment freedoms and irreparably harm his career, including by categorically precluding him from serving in any unit.”

The unsigned order denied Dunn’s request for relief with no explanation. Justices Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch indicated that they would have granted the request. This decision comes off of another emergency petition in March that ruled that the Navy can reassign unvaccinated Navy SEALs.