Thousands of military members are struggling to get answers to their requests for religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The Pentagon announced in August that COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for all members of the military. Without the shot or an approved exemption, the service members who continue to refuse will be forced out of the armed forces.
Each branch of the military has fielded thousands of requests for religious exemptions since the announcement was made and military officials are struggling to work through the backlog. While some requests have been denied, many of those are being appealed. No requests for a religious exemption to the shot has been approved. As the Associated Press reported on Sunday:
More than 12,000 military service members refusing the COVID-19 vaccine are seeking religious exemptions, and so far they are having zero success.
That total lack of approvals is creating new tensions within the military, even as the vast majority of the armed forces have gotten vaccinated.
The services, urgently trying to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check by getting troops vaccinated, are now besieged with exemption requests they are unlikely to approve. Meanwhile, troops claiming religious reasons for avoiding the shots are perplexed because exemptions are theoretically available, yet seem impossible to obtain.
About 30,000 service members, or 1.5% of the armed forces, are not vaccinated, according to the military. Several thousand of those have received temporary or permanent medical or administrative exemptions, and many more have applied for religious exemptions.
On Thursday, military officials announced that vaccine holdouts in the armed forces would begin to be dismissed shortly. While many of the unvaccinated have applied for exemptions who’s forms are still being processed, some have refused the vaccine outright.
The Biden administration’s military vaccine mandate has brought on a series of legal battles and lawsuits from U.S. servicemembers, including from dozens of members of U.S. special forces. Last month, over two dozen Navy SEALs filed suit against the federal government seeking a religious exemption to the mandate.
The SEAL members – each one either Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant – have “sincerely held religious beliefs forbid each of them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine for a variety of reasons based upon their Christian faith as revealed through the Holy Bible and prayerful discernment,” the lawsuit says.
“Plaintiffs believe that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine that was tested, developed, or produced using aborted fetal cell lines would force them to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs by causing them to participate in the abortion enterprise, which they believe to be immoral and highly offensive to God,” the suit states.
The SEALs suit follows one in September filed by Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Robert and Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Hollie Mulvihill requesting an exemption be added for those servicemembers who have already contracted and recovered from COVID-19 and gained natural immunity.
“Service members that have natural immunity, developed from surviving the virus, should be granted a medical exception from compulsory vaccination because the DoD instruction policy reflects the well-established understanding that prior infection provides the immune system’s best possible response to the virus,” the lawsuit states.