Air Force officer faces court-martial over religious objection to COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The Air Force officer can either face a court-martial or be punished by forfeiting rank or pay or working extra duty for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Updated: April 15, 2022 - 11:31am

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An Air Force officer is facing a trial by court-martial for refusing a COVID-19 vaccination after both his request for a religious exemption from the military vaccine mandate and his appeal were denied.

The Air Force served Master Sergeant Vincent White an "Article 15" non-judicial punishment on Wednesday, which is the most severe military punishment below a court-martial. If an airman accepts the Article 15 punishment, then the Air Force could immediately take away his rank or pay, or assign him extra duty.

However, an airman can instead decline to accept the punishment and request a trial by court-martial instead, which is what White has chosen. The Air Force then will have to either go to trial or rescind the Article 15 punishment.

After being ordered to receive the COVID vaccine, White, who is a Christian, submitted a religious accommodation request (RAR) for an exemption from the vaccine mandate. The request was denied.

Subsequently, White was again ordered to get the vaccine, and then filed an RAR appeal. When that was denied, he received a letter of reprimand (LOR). When an LOR is upheld, it can effectively end an airman's military career by blocking him from promotion.

Following a second order to get the vaccine and refusing to do so, White received a second LOR. After he responded to the LOR, he was served the Article 15 punishment.

The third order for White to get the vaccine reads: "This will be my third order to you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine with full licensure approval from the FDA and provide proof."

White's attorney R. Davis Younts argues there is currently no fully FDA-approved COVID vaccine available to the military, as the only two fully FDA-approved COVID vaccines — Pfizer's Comirnaty and Moderna's Spikevax — are not widely available in the U.S., if at all. All other COVID vaccines are approved under federal Emergency Use Authorization.

Mandate supporters counter that the non-branded Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been approved by the FDA only under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) have the same formulas as their branded counterparts and are medically interchangeable.

Younts told Just the News on Friday that after much thought and prayer, White decided to go through with the court-martial, which may be the first one related to the COVID vaccine.

"This is next-level coercion on the part of the Air Force," Younts said. "The Letter of Reprimand is a punishment, an adverse action, but it's a piece of paper that doesn't have an immediate effect. Now you are punishing people with the threat of taking their rank away, their pay away, giving them extra duties and working long hours.

"This is true punishment because of religious faith and what is worse is they either have to get the vaccine, accept punishment that'll be harsh because they won't get a fair hearing, or face a court-martial. The military fails to recognize no fully approved FDA vaccine has been produced. They are doubling down on their lies to airmen to force them to get the vaccine. The only way for a fair hearing is turn [the Article 15 punishment] down and demand a trial."

The Air Force originally gave White until Monday to respond, but extended the deadline to Wednesday, which Younts said was because the service wants him to either accept the "Article 15" punishment or get the vaccine.

White's wife, Air Force Master Sergeant Shealyn White, is also pursuing a RAR for exemption from the vaccine mandate, but no final decision has been reached in her case.

Hurlburt Field Air Force Base, where White is stationed, has served Article 15 punishments to other service members who sought religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine mandate, Younts said.

Hurlburt Field Air Force Base hasn't responded to a request for comment.

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