Over 120 airmen at March Air Reserve Base (MARB), including their chaplain, have been denied religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to an MARB public information officer. The Air Force recognizes chaplains as one of the most important individuals in determining religious exemptions. Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs Captain Allison Kirk clarified the chaplain’s significance in early October.
“For Airmen seeking a religious accommodation request, chaplains play a critical role in ensuring each request is fully considered in accordance with DAFI 52-201, Religious Freedom in the Department of the Air Force,” stated Kirk.
Exemptions are determined through a religious accommodation request (RAR). Certain laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) require the government to offer a significant reason for encroaching on religious beliefs. The RFRA act, introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) when he was a representative for the 9th District, bars the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s religious freedom without “compelling government interest.” According to Air Force policy, religious accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs are denied if they present a real adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, and health or safety. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy serves as the final appeal authority on religious exemptions for vaccination mandates.
This week, the Air Force was the first to reportedly discharge service members for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine: 27 airmen. None of the individuals sought a religious, medical, or administrative exemption.
MARB is one of three major reserve bases; it’s responsible for “strategic reach forces” and oversight of 19 subordinate units nationwide.
The Daily Wire spoke with MARB public information officer, Captain Scott Terra, who was also denied a religious exemption. He informed us that there hasn’t been much clarity throughout the accommodations process. Even some of his higher-ups haven’t known what to expect.
“The perception is if none of the requests are even being honored, was there an urgency in attempts to evaluate these claims and consider them?” asked Terra. “I haven’t always agreed with the Air Force policies, but I’ve always followed orders. This is getting to be a situation where this is possibly an illegal order.”
Terra told The Daily Wire that he decided to discuss the mandate’s implications because he’s an American citizen first and foremost.
“This is a religious freedom issue and this is a cornerstone of what the Constitution stands for,” said Terra. “As a military officer, I feel I have a responsibility to respect religious freedom, and I believe our officers in chains of command feel the same. That’s the oath I took.”
According to Terra, the letters of rejection have come from their highest authority in the reserves: Lieutenant General Richard Scobee at Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC).
At the end of August, Defense Secretary Austin Lloyd issued a memo mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for the entire military. A month later, Lloyd followed up with another memo clarifying that the mandate extended to National Guard members and prohibited payment for those unvaccinated members. Recently, the Department of Defense announced consideration of a booster mandate as well.
One reservist spoke to The Daily Wire on the condition of anonymity. His RAR was denied last month; as of press time, he hasn’t received word on his appeal. He explained that funds for efficient operations are already limited without the additional burden of enforcing a vaccination mandate.
“As an Air Force commander, I have a fraction of the funds necessary to prepare my unit to execute its mission. Yet what time and money I have must be used to force a handful of members to receive a highly questionable jab against their will,” stated the airman. “I can’t pay for airmen to plan our unit exercises or conduct training, but I must fund orders that force members to report for disciplinary action if they refuse the jab. In an effort to avoid a theoretical threat to readiness we have committed a completely unforced error which will incur disproportionate and real, adverse impact to national security.”
Even though they are permitted to submit an appeal, the anonymous reservist shared that they’re given only 72 hours from the time they’re notified of their RAR denial. He reported that the timeline posed a common problem: some were notified while not on duty, and didn’t receive word of their denial until the 72 hours were nearly or completely up.
Terra informed The Daily Wire that it’s unclear where the 72-hour rule originated.
Even while awaiting an unknown outcome on his religious exemption, the anonymous reservist told The Daily Wire that he’s found an unexpected silver lining to his trials.
“It’s been stressful for me and my family,” said the reservist. “As a Christian I can see a lot of good that’s come out of this: my ability to share my faith, my testimony, with people that would never want to hear it, more times in the past ten months than the past ten years. You grow with challenges, and this is a challenge that I can certainly say that there’s a lot of good that’s come out of this.”
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for The Daily Wire and AZ Free News. Have something you think the mainstream media won’t cover? Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.