The Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, is shown in this photo from the National Archives.

The U.S. Constitution and courts should not care about popular sentiment, conventional wisdom or political pressure. Floating microorganisms don’t change this fact. Our judiciary should care only about the Constitution, which creates an equal set of rules by which we make decisions.

The First Amendment prevents the federal government from making laws that “prohibit the free exercise of religion…”

That means one can stand in a public park with a Quran and demand we obey Shariah. It means a Catholic physician can refuse to conduct abortions. It means U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar may wear a hijab in the U.S. Capitol.

In general, unless it poses imminent harm to others — i.e. blasting through a red light because Jesus ordered it — courts err on the side of those defending their actions on a basis of religious liberty.

Authoritarians generally despise this law because, when combined with the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, it does more than anything else to constrain the power of government.

The Constitution was written exclusively to limit the government’s authority. Authorizing individuals to answer to a higher power than the mayor, governor, legislature or the highest-ranking generals intentionally limits the authority.

Authoritarian societies cannot possibly respect the free exercise of religion. The doctrine prevents a small group of individuals from controlling how others think, live and communicate.

Religion is state managed in communist China, and those who don’t believe as the government demands risk torture and enslavement. Just ask Muslim Uyghurs and Christians in the Xin Jiang province.

Though “Buddha said outrun the cops” won’t work, freedom of religion has upheld the rights of the Amish to forgo cars and drive horse-drawn carriages on public roads. Muhammad Ali convinced the U.S. Supreme Court he had a right to avoid his draft into the Vietnam War because it violated his religious convictions.

Given our country’s founding principle and precedent of respecting religious convictions, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew McFarland slapped an injunction on the Air Force last week.

His order prevents, at least throughout the course of full adjudication, the continued punishment of three 2022 Air Force Academy graduates who refused a forced COVID vaccine on a basis of religious objections.

The academy allowed the cadets to graduate but refused to commission them as officers. It threatened to make each graduate pay hundreds of thousands in tuition the government typically covers. With this order, the Air Force must commission the graduates and should end the financial threats.

“Defendants shall not place or continue active reservists on no-points, no-pay status for their refusal to get vaccinated for COVID-19 due to their sincerely held religious beliefs; and defendants shall not refuse to accept for commissioning or enlistment any inductee or appointee due to their refusal to get vaccinated for COVID-19 due to their sincerely held religious beliefs,” the order reads.

The order upholds the First Amendment and Department of Defense instruction 1300.17:

“Service members have the right to observe the tenets of their religion or to observe no religion at all… the DoD Components will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) which do not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, or health and safety. A service member’s expression of such beliefs may not, in so far as practicable, be used as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.”

The political moralization of vaccines, rushed into creation by former President Donald Trump, cannot overpower the Constitution or the rules of the Air Force. Thanks to our federal judiciary, the law overpowers popular sentiment, conventional wisdom and political pressure. We remain the land of the free for those brave enough to stand up for freedoms guaranteed by the law.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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