The U.S. Marine Corps will stop seeking to punish troops who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 based on religious grounds.
In an administrative message on September 13, the Marine Corps said that the branch “will not enforce any order to accept COVID-19 vaccination, administratively separate, or retaliate against Marines in the class for asserting statutory rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”
“Commanders shall pause all administrative actions related to the involuntary separation of a class member, regardless of the current status of the separation process,” the guidance added.
According to Marine Corps spokesman Major Jay Hernandez, the order could affect 1,150 Marines who had applied for, and were denied, a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate.
The news comes just a few weeks after a U.S. federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the Department of Defense to prevent it from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on the thousands of Marines who have religious objections to receiving the shots.
In that case, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday wrote that the record “reveals the substantial likelihood of a systemic failure by the Marine Corps to discharge the obligations established by RFRA” (emphasis added).
Of the 3,733 Marines who had requested a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate, the Corps had granted only 11 requests – and even those were only for troops that were close to retirement.
At this time, it’s unclear how the Marine Corps’ new direction will impact the over 1,000 Marines who have already been involuntarily separated from the Corps over their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations.
Earlier this year, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro argued that compulsory vaccination was an “issue of combat readiness.”
“We simply cannot put the lives of our other sailors who are vaccinated at risk,” Secretary Toro argued.
But that argument seems to fall flat considering that the Marine Corps has granted 992 medical or administrative exemptions to the vaccine mandate.
It cannot be that Marines who are not vaccinated on medical grounds are less of a risk to their fellow Marines than those who are not vaccinated on religious grounds.
In addition, the premise of Secretary Toro’s assertion is in question. According to the secretary, if sailors and Marines aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, they won’t be combat ready.
However, we’ve seen numerous cases over the past year where even vaccinated soldiers are not “combat ready,” in the sense that some can, and do, still contract COVID-19.
As the Daily Citizen previously reported, “The naval warship USS Milwaukee had to pause its deployment after 25% of its crew tested positive for COVID-19. The U.S. Navy has since acknowledged that the Milwaukee’s crew was ‘100% immunized.’
“And the USS Halsey, a naval destroyer, had to delay its move from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to San Diego because one-third of the crew tested positive for COVID-19 – even though Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a spokesman for the 3rd Fleet, said nearly 100% of the crew was fully vaccinated.”
There are thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have sincere objections to receiving the COVID-19 vaccinations because of the use of aborted fetal cell lines in either their production or testing.
These troops deserve to have their requests for religious accommodation treated seriously. Instead, for too long, the various military branches simply rubber-stamped each request with a denial.
U.S. servicemen are willing to give their lives to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all American citizens the right to freely exercise their religion.
Surely the Department of Defense can respect those rights of its servicemen – the very rights that they have pledged to protect and defend.
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