Marine Corps rescinds penalties for service members seeking COVID vax religious accommodations

Fox News

The U.S. Marine Corps is 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. 

According to a new “interim guidance,” signed Sept. 14 and posted quietly online, the message “amends actions” directed toward unvaccinated Marines whose religious accommodation requests were denied and who appealed the decision.

The memo states that the amended guidance comes after a U.S. Federal District Court in Florida issued a preliminary injunction on Aug. 18 prohibiting the Marines from taking “certain actions” against those seeking religious exemptions.

The guidance says 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).”

RFRA is the federal law that prohibits 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 memo details.

In addition, it directs commanders to “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).”

The memo also states that vaccination status cannot be “considered or referenced” in fitness reports or other performance evaluations for service members.

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

However, if the preliminary injunction by the federal court is terminated, the guidance says Marines may still be subject to separation from the military for refusing to meet the vaccination requirement.

“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.

The Marine Corp’s walking back of their strict guidelines comes the day after Fox News Digital reported that the Navy had quietly rolled back punishments for SEALs seeking religious exemptions and additionally that the Pentagon’s inspector general said the Department of Defense is in “potential noncompliance” with standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

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 “concerning denials of religious liberty accommodation requests from COVID-19 vaccination requirements.”

“We found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies,” the IG said in the report.

In addition, Fox News Digital exclusively obtained a pair of U.S. Army fragmentary orders (FRAGOs) from multiple sources detailing COVID-19 guidance issued on July 8 and 19, 2022, which restricted unvaccinated soldiers from engaging in any official travel without express approval from the upper echelons of the Army.

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