Doster v. Kendall, No. 22-3702 (6th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
The Air Force ordered over 500,000 service members to get COVID-19 vaccinations. About 10,000 members requested religious exemptions; about 135 of these requests were granted, only to those planning to leave the service. It has granted thousands of exemptions for medical or administrative reasons. The Plaintiffs allege that the vaccine mandate substantially burdens their religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The district court granted a preliminary injunction that barred the Air Force from disciplining the Plaintiffs for failing to take a vaccine, then certified a class of thousands of similar service members and extended this injunction to the class.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In opposing class-action certification, the Air Force argued that RFRA adopts an individual-by-individual approach: it must show that it has a compelling interest in requiring a “specific” individual to get vaccinated based on that person’s specific duties. In challenging the injunction, however, the Air Force failed to identify the specific duties or working conditions of any Plaintiff, citing the “general interests” underlying the mandate. The court reasoned that it could uphold the injunction based on RFRA alone but also noted common questions for the class: Does the Air Force have a uniform policy of relying on its generalized interests in the vaccine mandate to deny religious exemptions regardless of individual circumstances? Does it have a discriminatory policy of broadly denying religious exemptions but broadly granting secular ones?
This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on September 9, 2022.