On Thursday, a federal judge issued a minute order requesting that President Joe Biden and his administration agree to stop terminating both U.S. service members and civilian federal employees amid a legal challenge to Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The Biden administration responded Friday saying it would not halt disciplinary actions and terminations of any federal employees awaiting the court’s ruling on a temporary restraining order (TRO) motion against the vaccine mandate.
The lawsuit brought by 20 plaintiffs includes U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Andrew Soto and Marine Corps Cpl. Christopher Hall. Soto and Hall both submitted religious exemption requests to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates shortly after the FDA approved Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine and Biden ordered vaccine mandates across the U.S. military.
The lawsuit argues that various offices of the executive branch “concocted a scheme” wherein they would work with a federal “Task Force” to impose a deadline for federal employees to submit religious exemption requests that the executive branch agencies would then use to “evaluate the scope” of how many employees are seeking religious exemptions, after which those agencies would devise “a questionnaire calculated to elicit information the agencies can then use as the basis for denying a respondent’s exemption request.” The Task Force is alleged to have told the federal agencies to refrain from issuing any rulings on religious exemption requests, and allegedly said “once you grant an exemption to an individual in a job category, it is very hard to say that you’re not going to grant [an exemption] to a similarly situated person.”
In response to the lawsuit, the Biden administration defendants requested an extended briefing schedule for the case. The request by the defendants could have the effect of putting the plaintiffs in the case up against deadlines in their respective military branches and federal agencies to be fully vaccinated or risk termination. Upon considering the request to extend the briefing schedule for the trial, District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a minute order requesting the federal agencies commit to not firing their employees acting as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“None of the civilian employee plaintiffs will be subject to discipline while his or her request for a religious exception is pending,” Kollar-Kotelly said. “Defendants also indicate that the active duty military plaintiffs, whose religious exception requests have been denied, will not be disciplined or separated during the pendency of their appeals.”
Kollar-Kotelly gave the defendant agencies until 12 p.m. ET on Friday to say whether they would agree to the condition to stop firing civilian employees while their religious exemptions are pending and to stop firing plaintiffs actively involved in the case as it proceeds.
In its response, the Biden administration wrote that it would not agree to the halt on firings against the plaintiffs.
“It is Plaintiffs’ burden to demonstrate impending irreparable harm . . . but Plaintiffs offer nothing beyond speculation to suggest that their religious exception requests will be denied and that they will be disciplined at all, much less on the first day that such discipline is theoretically possible,” the Biden administration response reads. “Indeed, if Plaintiffs’ religious exception requests are granted, Plaintiffs will suffer no injury and the case will become moot.”
On Friday, the plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Yoder told Fox News, “The Biden administration has shown an unprecedented, cavalier attitude toward the rule of law and an utter ineptitude at basic constitutional contours.”
“This combination is dangerous to American liberty,” Yoder added. “Thankfully, our Constitution protects and secures the right to remain free from religious persecution and coercion. With this order, we are one step closer to putting the Biden administration back in its place by limiting government to its enumerated powers. It’s time citizens and courts said no to tyranny. The Constitution does not need to be rewritten, it needs to be reread.”
Kollar-Kotelly said that, without the Biden administration’s agreement to not terminate civilian employees with pending religious exemption requests and the plaintiffs involved in the case, “The Court shall order bifurcated briefing, requiring Defendants to file an expedited opposition to the TRO Motion” by November 2 and file their proposed motion to dismiss the case.