U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court allows US to discipline military officer who saw 'sacramental quality' in vaccine mandate

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed the government to discipline a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve while he appeals his vaccine refusal case.

The high court turned down the emergency request by Lt. Col. Jonathan Dunn, who was removed as a squadron commander after he refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds, report the New York Times and SCOTUSblog.

Dunn was seeking protection from further punishment, including a discharge, according to his emergency application for an injunction pending appeal.

The court’s April 18 order did not explain its reasoning. It noted that Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Neil Gorsuch would have granted Dunn’s request for an injunction to block disciplinary action.

Those same three justices dissented last month, when the Supreme Court allowed the Navy to consider a vaccine refusal by 35 Navy SEALS and other Special Warfare personnel when making decisions on their deployment and assignment. That case was also part of the Supreme Court’s emergency docket.

In Dunn’s case, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar had argued that his unit was designed to be deployed with only 72 hours’ notice, and vaccination was essential to military readiness, the New York Times and SCOTUSblog report.

Dunn’s religious objection is based on government leaders’ characterization of the vaccine.

“Because government leaders have described the vaccine as a moral obligation and have relegated the unvaccinated to lower social status with reduced civil rights, he believes this particular vaccine has taken on a ‘symbolic’ and ‘sacramental quality,’” Dunn’s emergency application says.

“That makes COVID-19 vaccination a religious ritual 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 the Air Force denied Dunn’s appeal, he was told that he had three choices: receive the vaccine, submit a retirement request if eligible, or refuse the vaccine in writing. His response was, “NUTS!”

Dunn was relieved of his command. The Air Force said it did so because of Dunn’s “NUTS!” response.

Dunn said the answer reflected resolve rather than disrespect. The one-word answer “echoed Brig. Gen. McAuliffe’s famous answer to the Germans demanding that the 101st Airborne surrender at the Battle of the Bulge,” according to Dunn’s emergency application.

The New York Times added more to the story. The American officer who conveyed McAuliffe’s message added an explanation. In plain English, “nuts” means “go to hell,” the officer said.

The case is Dunn v. Austin.

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