Religious Exemption Requests on Vaccine Go Nowhere

Pentagon didn't expect 12K applications
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2021 11:55 AM CST
On Vaccine, Military Hasn't Granted Religious Exemptions
Col. Larry Bazer, head chaplain for the National Guard, and Chaplain Maj. A'Shellarien Lang talk Friday at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

When the Pentagon announced in August that all service members would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, it said they can seek religious exemptions. More than 12,000 military service members have done that, the AP reports, but so far, not one exemption on religious grounds has been granted. "We did not expect the surge of requests," said Air Force Col. Paul Sutter, chief chaplain for Space Force. The Air Force, which includes Space Force, had said the requests would be decided in 30 days. But there's a review process that made that promise unrealistic once the Air Force, for example, received 4,700 requests.

Other branches have received far fewer requests. Service members are frustrated, per the AP. Some requests that were turned down have been appealed, but numbers weren't available. The requests are assessed by military chaplains. "I don't really dig into how long they've been in church and all of that kind of stuff because it's really about their current reality of what they really believe," said Maj. A'Shellarien Lang, an Army chaplain for the National Guard. "And in that moment—let's suppose it's a political decision, but they wrap it in religiosity—that's still what they believe in that moment."

The number of vaccine holdouts is low, but military leaders last week said they'll be dismissed from the service soon, per the New York Times. The defense authorization bill just passed by Congress will prohibit giving anyone refusing a vaccine a discharge that's anything other than honorable, per the Military Times. The separations have begun: The Marine Corps said Thursday that 103 personnel were removed after missing its Nov. 28 vaccination deadline, per the BBC. The branch said it has denied 2,800 of the 3,000 religious exemption applications it has received so far. The Air Force last week announced 27 discharges. (More vaccine mandate stories.)

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