The U.S. Navy last week made sure sailors understood its COVID-19 vaccine policy: No jab and you’re out.
In a press release, the Navy indicated 95 percent of active-duty sailors were fully vaccinated. The rest are expected to comply by Nov. 28.
Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr. noted in a statement that those holdouts will be given a general discharge, which would strip them of their GI Bill benefits.
Sailors, like other military personnel, can claim a medical or religious exemption. But if those are denied, they, too, will be booted from the Navy unless they fall in line and get the shot.
Those rules were handed down after 35 Navy SEALs filed a lawsuit over being denied a religious exemption.
Partly in response to those who feel unjustly targeted by the denial of religious exemptions, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and other GOP lawmakers wanted Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to explain the basis for such decisions.
“We are deeply concerned about the administration’s vaccine mandate and its implementation throughout our armed services,” the group said in a letter to Austin.
“In recent weeks we have received reports from across the country describing the unjust denials of servicemembers’ applications for medical and religious exemptions. In fact, we have received complaints from servicemembers representing several military installations that include corroborating documents indicating what seems to be an illegal policy of blanket denials for religious exemption requests from the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The lawmakers noted that in some cases the Pentagon’s standard for obtaining a religious exemption was so “rigorous” that even chaplains were denied exemptions. “Are military chaplains not an authority on the doctrines of their own religions?” they asked.
They asked Austin to explain how the rules overrule the “legitimate concern for the impact the COVID-19 vaccine may have on their bodies.”
Among the things they want to know are the process for evaluating the merits of religious and medical exemption applications, if that standard has changed since the mandate was announced, if local commanders have any flexibility in interpreting the rules, and if the military is abiding by laws that protect religious freedom.
They also want to know the ratio of denials and approvals for each branch of service.
“The consequences for ignoring medical or religious exemptions may be dire to our servicemember’s physical and mental health and to military readiness,” they wrote.
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