OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — A federal judge denied a motion by the State of Oklahoma to stop a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Gov. Kevin Stitt maintains the guard is under his control and thinks the federal vaccine mandate for military members doesn’t apply to those in the guard.
The Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General asked a federal court to grant a Temporary Restraining Order and/or preliminary injunction followed by a permanent injunction, preventing the enforcement of the vaccine mandate.
Additionally, the lawsuit asks the court to block the Biden Administration from withholding federal funding from the Oklahoma National Guard or its Guard members, and declare the mandate unconstitutional.
“Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate ensures that many Oklahoma National Guard members will simply quit instead of getting a vaccine, a situation that will irreparably harm Oklahomans’ safety and security,” said Attorney General John O’Connor.
The judge denied the motion and took aim at Stitt who asserted the mandate violates the personal freedoms of many Oklahomans, bringing up the fact that there are 9 other FDA approved vaccines that Oklahoma Guard members are required to take.
The judge goes on to say there could be consequences for National Guard members who don’t comply with the mandate, including loss of pay and involuntary separation from the Guard.
The judge also writes the members did not have the benefit of a well-informed leadership at the highest level of the Oklahoma Guard.
A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma National Guard would not comment on the judge’s decision, instead referred KFOR to Stitt’s office.
Carly Atchison, Stitt’s Communications Director, said the following: “We are reviewing the judge’s order and will offer comment after we’ve reviewed.”
Stitt announced in November that he appointed Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino to serve as the state’s Adjutant General and National Guard commander. However, he still has to be confirmed by the State Senate. Mancino told Guardsmen last month they would not have to comply with the mandate.
“I have done everything in my power under the law to protect the freedoms of Oklahoma Guardsmen. President Biden’s decision to mandate COVID vaccines will weaken our operational readiness by driving good men and women out of the Guard by violating their personal and religious freedoms,” Stitt said in a statement.
Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino released the following statement to Oklahoma Air National Guard members:
“The Department of Defense (DoD) has indicated it will recoup any pay provided to unvaccinated Airmen who drill after January 1, 2022. The Department of Defense controls the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and can enforce this threat outside of the State of Oklahoma’s control.
Additionally, a federal judge recently denied Oklahoma’s request for relief (called “injunctive relief”) which would have temporarily prevented such action. This does not mean that the case is over.
I fully support Governor Stitt’s authority over the Oklahoma National Guard when not federalized, but as I have said before ‘the extent of that authority is ultimately a legal question to be answered by the courts or Congress.’ Above all else, we are a country governed by the rule of law. We may challenge policies in court, but it is our duty to follow a ruling once made.
All I can do as a leader is make the right decisions, for the right reasons, then own them all. I own this one:
With no possibility of injunctive relief before January 1, 2022, I have decided to not allow unvaccinated Oklahoma Air National Guard Drill Status Guardsmen (DSGs), without a medical exemption or religious accommodation request, to participate in any future drill period, except for any Airmen wishing to be vaccinated. The Governor concurs with this decision.
I continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, if you choose, and will continue to facilitate that option for any Airmen who wish to take it.
This policy only applies to the Air National Guard at this time, as the deadline for Army National Guard Soldiers to be vaccinated is not until this summer.”