Service members struggle to acquire religious exemptions for vaccines

Military personnel claim they have been struggling to get religious exemptions to the military vaccine mandate approved.

With the deadline for mandated military vaccinations looming, service members must get vaccinated or seek an exemption. For those seeking religious exemptions, the attempt has been a struggle.

"It's a giant mess," Sean Timmons, a Houston attorney representing more than 100 military personnel seeking religious exemptions, told the Washington Times. "Nobody knows what's going on. It's been a complete and utter disaster every step of the way."

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According to the Washington Times, at least 4,933 airmen filed waiver applications, estimated to be the most filed in history. As of Nov. 3, none of the applications had been approved.

The Army also reported a higher number of requests for religious exemptions.

"The Army's religious accommodation process related to medical care is not new. While the scale of religious exemption requests related to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate may become higher in volume than previous requests, the Army will continue to handle all religious accommodation requests pursuant to established Department of Defense and Army policy," Army spokeswoman Heather J. Hagan told the Washington Times.

The inability to respond to a lack of religious exemption approvals has sparked several lawsuits. Nearly three dozen Navy SEALS and sailors joined a lawsuit that claims the mandate violated their First Amendment rights because they were not granted a religious exemption.

As of early November, 93% of the Marines and 97% of the Air Force had received the vaccine, claims Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. Last week, the Navy reported that 96% of active-duty sailors had been vaccinated, with 99.5% having received one dose.

A memo filed by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth states that any military personnel who decline the vaccine will be barred from being promoted, reenlisting, and receiving enlistment bonuses and tuition assistance.

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Active-duty members of the Army will have to be vaccinated by Dec. 15, while active-duty members of the Air Force will need to be vaccinated by Nov. 2 and active-duty Navy sailors by Nov. 28. The Navy deadline also applies to Marine Corps members.

Non-active-duty Marine Corps and Navy Reserve service members must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 28. Reserve Air Force personnel need to get the shot by Dec. 2, and Army reservists need it by June 30, 2022.

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