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(LifeSiteNews) — A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against United Airlines regarding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, ordering the case be reconsidered by a lower judge.

In September, United told its 67,000 employees that they had until October 2 to get vaccinated, with those who remain unvaccinated for recognized medical reasons being put on “temporary, medical leave” until new policies are established for unvaccinated employees, and workers with religious exemptions placed on indefinite unpaid leave. All others would simply be fired.

In response, 18 pilots sued in Florida for a temporary restraining order against the “unconscionable ultimatum,” which they say puts them at a “particular, significant risk of harm with enhanced possibility of heart failure and clotting working at high altitudes that transport numerous souls aboard their aircraft who entrust the pilots to fly them safely to their destinations on a daily basis.” Another group of six employees filed a similar suit in Texas.

In response, United delayed implementation until October 15 while maintaining that the complaint was “without merit” and stressing that “excluding the small number of people who have sought an exemption, more than 97% of our U.S. employees are vaccinated” and claiming to have seen an “overwhelmingly positive response from employees across all work groups” to the mandate.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman sided with United in November, claiming that unpaid leave for religious objectors constituted being given a choice.

But on Thursday, the Fifth Circuit panel determined that Pittman “erred as to the plaintiffs who remain on unpaid leave and have brought Title VII actions. Plaintiffs are being subjected to ongoing coercion based on their religious beliefs. That coercion is harmful in and of itself and cannot be remedied after the fact.”

“Critically, we do not decide whether United or any other entity may impose a vaccine mandate,” clarified Judges Jennifer Elrod and Andrew Oldham. “Nor do we decide whether plaintiffs are ultimately entitled to preliminary injunction. The district court denied such an injunction on one narrow ground; we reverse on that one narrow ground and remand for further consideration.”

The third panelist, Judge Jerry Smith, wrote a dissenting opinion calling on the full Fifth Circuit to consider the matter and claiming his colleagues had written an “orgy of jurisprudential violence” that could “chill life-saving answers to this pandemic.”

Many Americans continue to harbor serious reservations as to the COVID vaccines’ safety, stemming in large part from the rushed nature of their creation. The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed initiative developed and released the shots in a tenth of the time vaccine development usually takes and a quarter of the time it took the previous record-holder, the mumps vaccine, yet their advocates have done little to address the concerns of the hesitant.

During a COVID-19 vaccine hearing held by Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin last month, attorney Thomas Renz presented medical billing data from the Pentagon’s Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED) showing that 2021 saw drastic spikes in a variety of diagnoses for serious medical issues over the previous five-year average, including hypertension (2,181%), neurological disorders (1,048%), multiple sclerosis (680%), Guillain-Barre syndrome (551%), breast cancer, (487%), female infertility (472%), pulmonary embolism (468%), migraines (452%), ovarian dysfunction (437%), testicular cancer (369%), and tachycardia (302%).

In a statement to left-wing “fact-checking” outlet PolitiFact, Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Surveillance Division spokesperson Peter Graves confirmed the existence of the records but claimed that a conveniently-timed “data corruption” glitch made the pre-2021 numbers appear far lower than the actual numbers of cases for those years, which PolitiFact took at face value.

Meanwhile, data indicates that widespread dissemination of the COVID vaccines has failed to end the pandemic. The federal government considers more than 214 million Americans (over 64% of the eligible) to be “fully vaccinated” (a moving target given the vaccines’ temporary nature), yet data from Johns Hopkins University reported last October shows that more Americans died of COVID-19 by that point in 2021 (353,000) than in all of 2020 (352,000). The Moderna vaccine has been available throughout all of 2021; the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson shots were made available in late February.