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Marines grant first 2 religious COVID vaccine waivers of entire US military

U.S. Marines at a COVID-19 vaccination site at Naval Hospital Okinawa, Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 26, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Micha Pierce)
January 14, 2022

On Thursday, the U.S. Marine Corps announced it had approved its first two religious exemptions to the military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate. No other military branch has granted a religious exemption.

In an emailed statement, the Marine Corps revealed it has received 3,350 requests for religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine and has processed 3,212 requests, now with two requests approved. These two religious exemptions requests are the first to be approved across the entire military since the start of President Joe Biden’s military-wide COVID-19 vaccination order.

In response to an American Military News’ request for comment, Capt. Andrew Wood, a spokesman for the Marines, said this is the first time the service has approved a religious exemption for vaccination in 10 years.

To date, the entire military has received more than 14,000 religious exemption requests for the vaccine. The U.S. Army has approved none of the 2,128 requests it has received; the U.S. Air Force has approved none of about 4,900 requests it has received, and the U.S. Navy has approved none of about 3,700 requests it has received.

In its statement on Thursday, the Marine Corps said, “All current exemption requests are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Each request will be given full consideration with respect to the facts and circumstances submitted in the request.”

“Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to discuss the specifics of any individual request,” Wood said.

For those whose requests have been denied, there is the option to appeal the denial to the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.

As of Wednesday, 97 percent of the active component of the Marine Corps is at least partially vaccinated, with 95 percent fully vaccinated. The Marine Corps Reserves are 87 percent partially vaccinated with 86 percent who are fully vaccinated.

While the Marine Corps is still working through a few remaining religious, medical and administrative vaccine exemption requests, the service’s Nov. 28 vaccination deadline for active Marines and Dec. 28 vaccination deadline for reserve Marines has already passed and the service has already separated 351 Marines for refusing the vaccine.

The Navy’s continued lack of approved religious exemptions is the subject of at least one lawsuit. Earlier this month, however, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to 35 Naval Special Warfare service members who sued the military and President Joe Biden over the vaccine mandate. In his decision, Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that the service member’s religious objections to the vaccine are “undisputedly sincere.” In many cases, the plaintiffs’ commanding officers also recommended their religious accommodation requests be approved, yet none had been approved and 29 out of 35 were outright rejected. O’Connor said the Navy “merely rubber stamps each denial” to a religious accommodation request.