Marine Corps lifts sanctions against military personnel who request religious exemptions from COVID vaccination

NEW Fox News articles can now be heard on audio! The United States Marine Corps is eliminating harsh penalties for service members who request religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine, including discontinuing involuntary terminations and postponing promotions for some of those who refuse the shot.

The letter “amends actions” directed at unvaccinated Marines whose religious accommodation petitions were denied and who challenged the decision, according to a new “interim guidance” issued on September 14 and quietly placed online.

The memo claims that the revised advice was made in response to a preliminary injunction imposed on August 18 by a U.S. Federal District Court in Florida forbidding the Marines from taking “some steps” against persons requesting religious exemptions.

The Marine Corps “will not implement any order to accept COVID-19 vaccination, administratively separate, or penalize against Marines in the class for claiming statutory rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA),” according to the directive.

Navy Quietly Retaliated With Sanctions Against Seals Who Asked for Religious Exemptions from the COVID Vaccine

According to the federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the government is not allowed to “substantially limit a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden derives from a rule of universal applicability.”

The U.S. Marines Corps are rolling back strict punishments for service members seeking religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine, including ending involuntary terminations and delays of promotions for those refusing the shot.

The memo states, “Involuntary administrative separation processing of class members for COVID-19 immunization refusal is suspended.”

Additionally, it instructs commanders to “pause all administrative actions related to the involuntary separation of a class member, regardless of the current status of the separation process” (i.e., no orders to receive the vaccine, no counseling for declining the vaccine, no administrative separation boards, no DD-214s).

The email further notes that fitness reports or other performance evaluations for service members cannot “consider or reference” a service member’s vaccination status.

The amended policy details a set of measures to pull back that precise punishment in certain situations. The Marines’ earlier directive required commanders to “delay/restrict the promotion of any enlisted person refusing the vaccine and delay/restrict the promotion of any officer.”

The new rules do not, however, assist in advancing promotions for everyone. The commandant and secretary of the Navy will continue to receive recommendations for officers for promotions. The promotion of “Staff Non-Commissioned Officers” whose religious appeals were rejected will be postponed, while the promotion of “Private First Class” sergeants whose appeals were rejected will still be subject to a 12-month restriction.

The Marine's previous directive required commanders to delay the promotions of andquot;any officer and delay/restrict the promotion of any enlisted member refusing the vaccine,andquot; but the updated guidance outlines a series of steps to walk that specific punishment back.

However, the instruction states that Marines may still be discharged from the service for refusing to comply with the vaccination mandate even if the preliminary injunction issued by the federal court is lifted.

Maj. Jay Hernandez, a spokesman for the Marine Corps, told Fox News Digital that the Marine Corps is aware of the class-wide preliminary injunction issued by a District Court judge for the Middle District of Florida prohibiting the Marine Corps from enforcing any orders to accept the COVID-19 vaccine or administratively separating Marines who refused to receive the COVID vaccine after their religious accommodation appeal was denied.

We are trying to make sure that the injunction is in line with our current guidance, and we’ll publish more details as soon as they become available, he said.

The Marine Corps quietly relaxed its strict regulations the day after Fox News Digital revealed that the Navy had quietly reduced penalties for SEALs who requested religious accommodations. In addition, the inspector general of the Pentagon claimed that the Department of Defense is “potentially non-compliant” with guidelines for considering and denying religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell of the Pentagon reportedly assessed “concerning denials of religious liberty accommodation requests from COVID-19 immunization mandates,” according to an internal memo to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The IG stated in the report that “we discovered a pattern of broad assessments rather than the customized assessment that is required by Federal law, the DoD, and Military Service standards.”

AFTER REFUSING REQUESTS FOR VACCINE RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION, PENTAGON IS IN “POTENTIAL NONCOMPLIANCE” WITH THE LAW: IG

According to an internal memo by the Pentagon's Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the IG writes that he reviewed andquot;concerning denials of religious liberty accommodation requests from COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell of the Pentagon reportedly evaluated “concerning denials of religious liberty accommodation requests from COVID-19 immunization mandates, according to an official memo to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Additionally, Fox News Digital obtained two fragmentary orders (FRAGOs) from the U.S. Army that reveal COVID-19 advice that was given on July 8 and July 19, 2022, and which prohibited unvaccinated soldiers from engaging in any official travel without special permission from the Army’s top brass.

Houston Keene and Elizabeth Heckman from Fox News contributed to this article.

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