Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the COVID-19 shot for the U.S. armed forces in August, with the military branches allowed to set their own deadlines, and now an overwhelming majority have rolled up their sleeves and followed that controversial order as those deadlines have arrived.
The China-born virus has been blamed on 71 deaths of military personnel so far, The Military Times reported in an Oct. 28 story.
This week, the first Jab deadline came in the U.S. Air Force which reported 95.9 percent of active-duty members had gotten the shot, The Associated Press reported. That leaves approximately 8,400 holding out and even fewer, about 800, who have “verbally refused” according to an Air Force spokesman.
The Air Force official also announced the total number of exemptions granted so far: 1,866 requests were granted for medical or administrative.
Among those Air Force holdouts, 4,933 have put in a request for a religious exemption.
How many religious exemptions have been granted by the Air Force for religious exemptions? None, the AP reported.
Every religious exemption request in the U.S. Navy is also expected to be denied according to news website The Post Millennial, which cited a leaked email and other documents.
That decision by the Navy, if true, goes against its own policy. A religious-based request begins with a screening process by a chaplain, is reviewed by a commanding officer, and then goes up the chain of command, the Millennial story points out.
The blanket denial of religious accommodations has alarmed a military chaplain group, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. Bishop Derek Jones, the Alliance executive director, says military chaplains must study and understand the legal basis of religious accommodations and then speak up for the holdouts based on those facts.
“Systematically denying those religious accommodations for religious conviction is contrary to the Constitution,” he warns, “is contrary to what the courts have ruled in the past. And it's a problem."
In its late-October story, The Military Times said chaplains are screening religious exemption requests on a case-by-case basis. That process in the U.S. Army includes questions such as “How does your religion influence and shape your lifestyle?” and “How is your religious practice burdened by military regulation?”
A Navy chaplain told the Times that sailors are being evaluated on the “sincerity” of their beliefs. Approval is based on their individual views, not just the accepted beliefs of their denomination or the views of religious leaders.
The chaplain, Capt. Richard Ryan, gave the example of Pope Francis who has publicly said he supports the vaccine
“You can be Catholic and disagree with the Catholic Church on that,” he told the Times, “and it's still a sincerely held religious belief."
An attorney representing several U.S. Army holdouts told the Times his clients report “significant harassment” by their chain of command for refusing to get the shot.