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Nearly five months after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the mandate for active-duty military servicemen to get the jab, the Marine Corp is the first branch to budge, ever so little, on the vaccine mandate for corpsmen by granting two religious exemptions this week.
However, more than 3,200 of the 3,350 religious exemption requests filed by Marines have been denied according to a report by the Epoch Times.
No other branch of the service has granted a religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine although the Navy received more than 3,700 such requests and the Army received over 2,100. The Air Force has declined more than 2,300 religious exemptions and has over 2,100 more to review.
The change of direction from military officials was likely affected by a federal judge ruling in Texas earlier this month to grant an injunction for 35 Navy service members seeking a religious exemption, explained Sean Timmons, managing partner at a Houston office of the Tully Rinckey law firm.
Navy service members seeking religious exemptions to vax mandate handed favorable ruling https://t.co/SPxda6i8Jq
— Jack Furnari (@JackBPR) January 4, 2022
“I think the Marines saw the opinion, saw them get just completely get ripped a new one, admonished, reprimanded judicially … and they saw that, now they’re reacting to it; they’re trying to correct it after the fact,” Timmons said.
“They’re basically a bank robber who robbed the bank trying to return the money. ‘I’m not a bank robber. I’m just borrowing money.’ It’s laughable, comical,” he added.
A Marines spokesman, Capt. Andrew Wood, explained to American Military News that this was the first time in 10 years that a religious exemption for a vaccine had been granted for a servicemember. He declined to comment on the individual requests that were approved.
“Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to discuss the specifics of any individual request,” Wood said.
A Marine Corps statement released on Thursday indicated that pending exemptions were still being reviewed.
“All current exemption requests are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Each request will be given full consideration with respect to the facts and circumstances submitted in the request,” the statement read.
A report last month indicated that some military service members felt the vaccine is being used as a weapon to create a “political purge” from the military and the “best and brightest” are being given the boot over their refusal to get the poke.
Un-vaxxed Marines allege ‘political purge,’ say they are being ‘crushed’ for rejecting Biden mandate https://t.co/c6aMe6uVrT
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) December 30, 2021
An Air Force spokesperson acknowledged the troops’ concerns as the pending exemptions are processed in a virtual town hall last week, although he offered no indication that any would be granted for his branch.
“We understand it’s weighing on your minds, and we are working through these as expeditiously as we can … to make sure we’re looking at each one of them on a case-by-case basis, so that we are following and giving you due process as we go through that review,” Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr. explained.
Although the door to reason appears to be opening for at least a small number of service members, many active-duty and civilian federal employees still face an uphill battle.
A pending class-action lawsuit against the mandate cited a warning from Vice Admiral William Galinis that he sent to his Navy command of over 85,000 federal and civilian employees last October that read, “The Executive Order mandating vaccinations for all federal employees has provided clear direction. We are moving quickly toward a workforce where vaccinations are a condition of employment.”
“Frankly, if you are not vaccinated, you will not work for the U.S. Navy,” the commander of Naval Sea Systems Command threatened.
The hardline approach to religious exemptions is not entirely new although many would argue it’s unconstitutional. It wasn’t until 2014 that the Pentagon made concessions to relax the military dress code to allow for religious exemptions which now allow for beards, turbans, and the display of religious tattoos and jewelry.
Accommodations can be made due to “individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs” of the military personnel which is in line with the first amendment guaranteeing the free exercise of religion. However, requests are denied where the “needs of mission accomplishment outweigh the needs of the service member.”
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