Army approves first religious exemption for COVID vaccine

First Lt. Kitty Terry, a nurse from the Hawaii Army National Guard's medical detachment, displays a prepared syringe filled with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Oct. 1, 2021, at the Hawaii Army Readiness Center, Kalaeloa, Hawaii. (1st Lt. Anyah Peatross/Army National Guard)


Army officials announced Friday that the service has approved its first religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, making it the final military service to approve such an accommodation.

“The Department of the Army has approved one religious accommodation,” confirmed Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Terry Kelley in an email to Army Times. “The Army determined the service member’s accommodation could be supported with no impact to mission readiness.”

The Marine Corps approved a handful of religious exemptions for Marines about to leave the service, and both the Navy and Air Force have approved a few as well.

Kelley said the service could not disclose any more information out of respect for the soldier’s privacy.

The vast majority of religious accommodation requests have been denied or are still awaiting decision, though, as the Army marches closer towards its goal of complete vaccination across the force.

As of Thursday, Kelley said, 97% of the active duty force has been vaccinated or began the shot series.

The Army is also yet to discharge any troops refusing the vaccine, despite announcing last month that discharges were beginning.

The Army National Guard and Army Reserve have not hit their vaccination deadline, which is June 30. The effective timeline for the Guard, though, could be impacted by ongoing litigation from governors who argue that the federal government cannot enforce the vaccine mandate on troops who are under state control.

The first religious exemption — and the continued lack of discharges — comes amid a flurry of lawsuits by members of other branches of the military who have argued that the Defense Department is not adequately considering their requests for religious accommodation.

The DoD’s inspector general is going to look into those claims, according to Military.com.

In some cases, judges have issued preliminary injunctions that have stopped the military from punishing certain groups of troops whose requests for accommodation have been denied.

One such servicemember is a Navy destroyer’s commanding officer, and the Navy is arguing in federal court that they cannot deploy the warship without removing him from command.

Davis Winkie is a staff reporter covering the Army. He originally joined Military Times as a reporting intern in 2020. Before journalism, Davis worked as a military historian. He is also a human resources officer in the Army National Guard.



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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.