Marines Reject COVID Vaccine Exemptions, Potentially Forcing Thousands Out of Service

Navy informs Rep. Issa just three religious exemptions out of thousands approved

A United States Marine receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at Camp Foster on April 28, 2021, in Ginowan, Japan. / Getty Images
January 28, 2022

Just three Marines who requested a religious exemption to the legally mandated coronavirus vaccine have had their requests granted by military brass, leaving scores of active-duty service members facing expulsion from the force, according to Navy information provided to Congress.

The Marines who had their religious exemption requests granted were slated to leave the service in the coming weeks. Out of 3,428 reported requests for a religious pass, none were granted to active-duty service members who are planning to remain in the service longer than six months. The disclosure, made to Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) in a Jan. 21 letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, is prompting accusations that Marine brass are rejecting religious exemption requests and forcing active-duty Marines out of the service.

"The Biden military vaccine mandate is destroying the morale of our troops, careers of honor, and lives of service," Issa, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon. "And now we know it has corrupted a part of the military itself through the wholesale denial of legitimate religious accommodations."

The Biden administration's vaccine mandates have hit the U.S. military particularly hard. Nearly 400 Marines as of December 2021 have been booted from the service for refusing the vaccine. Twenty-three active-duty Navy sailors also were discharged on Thursday for refusing to get inoculated. Around 40,000 active service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines face expulsion for challenging the vaccine mandate. Issa, and other Republican hawks, say the Biden administration's vaccine requirement could cripple the military's readiness as conflicts brew in Eastern Europe, Asia, and throughout the Middle East.

The Navy, in its letter to Issa, confirmed in each case of religious exemption, the service member was either slated to leave or merge into an off-duty work program. Two of the Marines were already on terminal leave, meaning they were taking off from the service prior to being discharged. The third has already transitioned into the Pentagon's SkillBridge program, a 180-day training initiative in the private sector.

"The word is out from military command: Nobody is getting an accommodation," said Jonathan Wilcox, Issa's spokesman. "No Marine who wants to serve as a Marine has received religious accommodation unless they've got a foot out the door."

The Navy further says in its letter to Issa that these exemptions were granted primarily because the service members in question were no longer reporting to their respective units.

"When acting on these three religious accommodation requests, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps determined that, when weighing the compelling governmental interest, the likelihood of their vaccination status impacting military readiness and health and safety was remote because the requestors are no longer serving with Marine Corps commands," the letter states.

The Navy also says it is "aware that some Marines have voiced dissatisfaction" that their religious exemption requests were not satisfactorily reviewed before being rejected. The Navy, however, maintains each request is considered on an "individual basis" by an adjudication authority.

"I am not aware of any case in which the adjudication authority has questioned the sincerity of a service member's belief," the Navy maintains in its letter to Issa. "Rather, the crux of the decision in the many denials and the few approvals has been the Marine Corps' compelling interest in readiness, and the health and safety of the total force."

"This isn't how the military treats its own," said Issa. "The commander in chief is insisting on it."

The military vaccine mandate is being challenged in federal court, where other aspects of the Biden administration's mandate such as private sector mandates have been shut down in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, a federal judge granted an injunction blocking the Pentagon from retaliating against a group of 35 Navy sailors who refused the COVID vaccine, citing concerns over the "loss of religious liberties."