The United States Marine Corps is rescinding its punishments for troops seeking religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, new “interim guidance” quietly published this week states.
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The guidance is directed at unvaccinated Marines whose religious accommodation requests were denied and who appealed the disapproved accommodation request.
It states that “the Marine Corps 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).”
The RFRA is federal law that bars the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
“Involuntary administrative separation processing of class members for refusing COVID-19 vaccination is suspended,” the guidance continues.
“Commanders shall pause all administrative actions related to the involuntary separation of a class member, regardless of the current status of the separation process (e.g., no orders will be given to receive the vaccine, no counselings will be issued for refusing the vaccine, no administrative separation boards will be conducted, no DD-214s will be issued),” it adds.
The guidance also states that COVID-19 vaccination status of class members cannot be “considered or referenced in fitness reports or other performance evaluation documents processed on or after 18 August 2022.”
“Commanders may continue to document vaccine refusals in fitness reports for Marines not part of the class,” the guidance adds.
“The Marine Corps is aware of the class-wide preliminary injunction issued by a District Court judge for the Middle District of Florida preventing the Marine Corps from enforcing any order to accept the COVID-19 vaccine or administratively separating Marines who refused to receive the COVID vaccine after their religious accommodation appeal was denied,” Marine Corps spokesperson Maj. Jay Hernandez told Fox News Digital.
“We are working to ensure our current guidance aligns with the injunction and will publish more information when available,” he continued.
Last month, a corporal in the U.S. Marines was threatened with discharge for being unvaccinated against COVID-19 — an act that would defy a court order made one day earlier. A federal judge granted an injunction blocking the Marine Corps from punishing service members to enforce the military-wide vaccine mandate.