‘Only ‘Misconduct’ Was Being a Christian’: Officer Relieved of Command for Refusing Vaccine Mandate Speaks Out

By J.M. Phelps
J.M. Phelps
J.M. Phelps
Freelance reporter
J.M. Phelps is a writer and researcher of both Islamist and Chinese threats. He's on Twitter at @JMPhelpsLC
August 8, 2022 Updated: August 8, 2022

Thousands of veterans are facing separation from the U.S. military for refusing to abide by the government-imposed vaccine mandate. Many who’ve had their requests for religious accommodation rejected are pressing forward, arguing that the Pentagon’s actions have violated the Constitution and the law.

Relieved of command in 2021, one such example is military officer Corey Maverick (a pseudonym), who at the direction of an attorney agreed to speak to The Epoch Times on the condition of anonymity. Maverick’s views do not reflect the position of the Department of Defense (DoD) or any of the Armed Forces of the United States.

Maverick, who has served as a commander on multiple occasions, was relieved of a command position after submitting a COVID-19 vaccine religious accommodation request.

“I was relieved of command for not violating my religious beliefs,” Maverick said. “I swore an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

This was the first time in Maverick’s career that the officer was faced with the responsibility to choose between religious beliefs and career. The officer’s requests for religious accommodation and appeals have been denied, and multiple voluntary retirement requests were also denied.

“Instead, after serving as an officer for over 20 years, I have received punitive and administrative actions for not violating my religious beliefs,” Maverick said.

Even if Maverick’s religious accommodation request had been approved, it would not have salvaged the officer’s fate.

According to Maverick, “During my religious resolution team meeting, my boss stated that ‘even if [Maverick’s] accommodation request is approved, it would require at minimum reassignment for health and safety of personnel and to maintain good order and discipline.”

Early reassignment from a command position automatically relieves a commander of their command. Accordingly, the religious resolution team made this recommendation to Maverick’s religious accommodation approval authority, “we recommend denial with the caveat that the [approval authority] considers a temporary waiver while the member is reassigned immediately and have the member submit for retirement simultaneously.” The Epoch Times has viewed a copy of this memo.

“Thus,” Maverick said, “the mere fact that I exercised my Constitutional right to submit a COVID vaccine religious accommodation request ended my tenure as a Commander and subsequently halted my career progression.”

Epoch Times Photo
A nurse holds a syringe that contains a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children under age five at UW Medical Center – Roosevelt in Seattle, Wash., on June 21, 2022.David Ryder/Getty Images)

Interchangeability Contested

One day after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first COVID-19 vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine marketed as Comirnaty on Aug. 23, the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a vaccine mandate for the military that stated, “Mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 will only use COVID-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in accordance with FDA-approved labeling and guidance.”

Maverick argued out that according to Lloyds’ statement, the “vaccine mandate is a lawful order only if COVID-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration, in accordance with FDA-approved labeling and guidance are used.”

In September 2021, Dr. Terry Adirim, the acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, issued a memo regarding the mandatory vaccination of service members, saying that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 approved under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and the Comirnaty vaccines are interchangeable, citing FDA guidance. The FDA has stated that the Comirnaty and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines “when prepared according to their respective instructions for use, can be used interchangeably to provide the COVID-19 vaccination series without presenting any safety or effectiveness concerns.”

But Maverick contested the legality of such a designation by the Pentagon. “While both versions of the vaccines may be used interchangeably from a health care standpoint, they cannot legally be used interchangeably from a military vaccine mandate standpoint without a Presidential waiver,” Maverick said. To do so violates 10 U.S. Code § 1107a, Maverick added.

Maverick said there are no FDA-approved Comirnaty-labeled vials in existence to this day for members of the United States. “This created a lot of confusion about the availability of Comirnaty because all the vials we had were the EUA labeled vials—as if the EUA product was the FDA-approved product,” Maverick said. “This was simply not true, creating a lot of concern from members [of the military] being mandated to get the EUA product under threat of penalty and .”

According to an amicus curiae brief filed in the Eastern District of Texas in July, “the DoD is knowingly administering EUA-labeled vials and pawing them off ‘as if’ they were licensed vaccines with full FDA approval and labeling, in complete violation of its own DoD mandate.”

Military members at Maverick’s installation were ordered to receive an initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with full licensure approval from the FDA. “We were told the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was not the only option available for complying with this order and were informed we could voluntarily use another vaccine to complete the requirements of the order,” Maverick said. “And when concerns were raised from military members across the installation about an FDA-approved vaccine not being available, we were instructed to use the EUA Pfizer BioNTech as if it was the FDA-approved Comirnaty.”

Because the EUA vaccine was an experimental drug, this required a higher level of consent from the recipient, contended Maverick. “Neither I, nor any members under my purview on the installation I was assigned at the time, were provided legally effective informed consent as required by law prior to administration of an EUA drug.”

Epoch Times Photo
A military member prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Fort Knox, Ky., on Sept. 9, 2021. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Religious Conviction

As various attorneys and experts seek a means to justify the objections of thousands of members of the military, Maverick said, “seeing federal courts order injunctions against the military COVID mandates for the Navy and Department of the Air Force gives me hope that a DoD-wide injunction is possible.” Courts have issued preliminary injunctions barring the two branches from punishing service members who have applied for religious accommodation.

“While I lost my command, thousands of service members across the DoD have suffered worse for not violating their religious beliefs,” Maverick said. “It is heart-wrenching and immensely disappointing to see thousands of high-caliber service members get separated and receive other punitive actions for exercising their Constitutional rights.”

Maverick urged for an end to what the officer described as “injustice, abuse of authority, and religious discrimination,” adding that “these court-ordered injunctions are absolutely a step in the right direction.”

“My integrity and religious beliefs are too important to me to compromise, even if that means I risk of losing my career and negatively impacting my retirement benefits,” Maverick said. “It’s an absolute honor to serve alongside so many other military members who are willing to do the same. I know God will take care of us.”

Maverick’s attorney, R. David Younts provided comment for The Epoch Times. “As a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force Reserve and former Active Duty JAG representing more than 50 military members facing religious discrimination, I am deeply troubled by the actions taken against my client,” he said.

“Maverick has served honorably as an officer and a leader, and my client’s only ‘misconduct’ was being a Christian,” said Younts. “The same faith that enabled Maverick to serve successfully as an officer has been used to end this officer’s career.”

Sadly, he said, Maverick is not alone. “Many of my clients have had their careers ruined because of their Christian faith and commitment to the Constitution,” he said.

“While the Air Force-wide injunction will prevent the Air Force from discharging me and many of my clients, members of the Air Force remain under tremendous pressure to abandon their faith or face discrimination in assignments, promotions, and selection for leadership position.”

The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.

J.M. Phelps
Freelance reporter
J.M. Phelps is a writer and researcher of both Islamist and Chinese threats. He's on Twitter at @JMPhelpsLC