The editorial comments in this article are brought to you by a United States veteran and current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today.
ARLINGTON, VA – The Biden administration gave guidance to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to begin working on making the COVID vaccine mandatory for all members of the US armed services. Austin did just that.
Since then, rumors have circulated that many service members would rather face separation from their branch than get the inoculations. Many of the claims remain unsubstantiated, but what we do now know is that thousands of our nation’s finest are seeking exemptions for the mandate.
In fact, Epoch News reports that more than 16,000 members of our military have sought a religious exemption, the Air Force alone receiving just over 11,000. To date, no branch has approved a single one. But, this is actually nothing new.
According to court filings as part of Navy Seal 1 v. Biden, not only have no COVID exemptions been approved for religious reasons, the Department of Defense branches have only approved a small number of vaccine exemptions in recent years leading up to the pandemic.
These filings were part of a court ruling requiring the Pentagon to show how they handle religious exemptions. That case is a class-action lawsuit filed by numerous service members.
“Joe Biden imposed an illegal order to force every active and reserve service member to get the injections and compounded his illegal actions by depriving these military heroes of their constitutional and legal rights to religious exemptions.
Biden’s Department of Justice knew two weeks ago when the court ordered the release of this critical information that this day of accountability was coming and yet not one person’s religious accommodation request has been granted.
This is telling and will not bode well for their defense.”
That was a statement emailed to the Epoch Times by Matthew Staver of the Liberty Counsel, who is representing the plaintiffs.
“It is clear that all roads in the military lead to denial of all religious requests,” he also wrote.
One of the plaintiff’s stated that he was removed from his leadership position after he appealed the exemption denial he received.
In other words, the military has created a pathway to request exemptions, which they appear to have no intention of approving. That process also has an allowance to appeal.
None of those will be approved either.
And to make matters worse, the branches seem to say that they are allowing service members a chance to file a form… because they have to. But, they will deny that request.
Then, if members use the approved appeals process, they will be punished for that effort.
It is reminiscent of our parents telling us “the answer is no, now stop asking. Why? Because I said so.”
The Army and Marines have denied all requests dating back to 2019 and 2016, respectively. The Coast Guard approved two of 23 received over the past decade.
The Navy has decided 419 requests so far. None were approved.
The Marines have said no to more than 250 of the 2,266 exemptions received. They have also denied one appeal. Of the staggering number received by the Air Force, 6.2% have been denied, while the others are still pending. They have also received 170 appeals, none of which have been ruled on.
But, before we look at the armed forces for for an attack on religious freedom, they have also allowed only a few medical exemptions. The Department of the Navy has granted only 20, six in the Navy and 14 in the Marines.
The Pentagon however, is proud of the efforts that have been given to accommodate our troops.
“The secretary is pleased by the level of effort that the military departments have taken to enact this mandatory vaccine regimen,” John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, told reporters earlier this month.
“He’s not unmindful of the fact that in each of the military departments there are some members who are declining, refusing to take the vaccine, some that are applying for the exemptions, some exemptions that are being granted.”
So, why the refusal to approve any of the requests?
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“Lawyers representing service members applying for religious and medical exemptions have told The Epoch Times that military leadership has brought enormous pressure to bear on troops to get vaccinated. They said that officials largely appeared to be stalling on ruling on requests to try to discourage troops from filing them.”
One argument making the rounds is that the military has its own constitution known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and therefore, the 1st Amendment right to the freedom of religion does not apply in this situation.
Because the mandate has been considered a “lawful order,” refusal would be in violation of Articles 90, 92, 98, 108, 133 (for officers), and 134.
Many former and current soldiers would argue that you cannot pick and choose what is protected under your religious liberties and what is not.
I served in the Army from 1996 to 2004. During that time, we were allowed by regulation to wear religious jewelry, as long as it was within regulations. For example, I could wear a chain with a cross on it. But, it must be tucked into my shirt while in uniform.
Only during religious services were service members able to wear religious attire on the outside of their uniform. We were not permitted to wear religious headgear as part of our duty uniform, with the exception of chaplains.
Males were not allowed to grow facial hair aside from a mustache, which was required to be groomed. Beards were allowed only for medical reasons and were to be trimmed to a specific length and could not be shaped.
Here is a photo from the 2002 version of the Army Regulation 670-1 that shows the only acceptable facial hair.
Here is the screenshot from the 2021 iteration of that same regulation.
Also included now in the section of religious accommodations:
Understand, this is not to point out that these accommodations should not be made. In fact, it actually is pointed out to underscore the hypocrisy of the branches for making religious accommodations in one instance, but not others.
And yes, I am completely aware that a beard and a vaccination are not the same thing. But accommodating a service member’s deeply held belief based on personal religious convictions should be the same across the board. There should never an “a la carte” approach.
Obviously, there must be checks and balances in place to keep people from abusing the system. The reason for accommodation must be verifiable. A Christian cannot simply seek an religious exemption because they want to wear a beard just because Jesus had a beard.
But, it could be argued that there are numerous passages in the Bible that would allow a Christian a legitimate argument against the vaccine on religious belief grounds. The approving authority doesn’t have to hold the same belief in order to grant that accommodation.
Army Regulation 600-20 (dated 24 July 2020) paragraph 5-6 states:
“The Army places a high value on the rights of its Soldiers to observe tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all; while protecting the civil liberties of its personnel to the greatest extent possible, consistent
with its military requirements.”
Religious accommodations fall under one of five categories, at least for the Army: worship practices, dietary practices, medical care, wear and appearance of uniforms, and personal appearance/grooming.
Immunizations fall under the category of medical care.
“Some religious practices conflict with normal Army medical procedures. These practices include beliefs in self-care, and prohibitions against immunizations, blood transfusions, or surgery.
Accommodations concerning medical care always require coordination between unit commander and appropriate healthcare provider…TSG is the decision authority for immunization exemptions and appeals concerning disapproved religious accommodations for other medical practices. (pages 57-58)”
The TSG alluded to in the above paragraph is the Surgeon General.
You read that correctly. The Army’s Surgeon General, Lt. General R. Scott Dingle is the approving (or more realistically, the denying) authority for any and all exemption requests.
But there are numerous steps that a requestor must go through before his office sees it.
According to the Army Times:
“First, unit chaplains must interview requesters and ‘provide a memorandum that summarizes this interview and addresses the religious basis and sincerity of the Soldier’s request.’ In addition to the religious sincerity interview, ‘a licensed healthcare provider’ must counsel religious objectors as well.
Finally, the soldier’s ‘immediate commander’ must sit down with them and explain ‘that noncompliance with immunization requirements may adversely impact deployability, assignment, or international travel, and that the exemption may be revoked under imminent risk conditions.”
In other words, you may apply for an exemption, but the Army will do everything to convince you that your deeply-held religious beliefs are not worth our time and trouble and they will make your career a living hell.
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