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Most of the troops who have seen their applications for religious exemptions from the U.S. military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate denied were deemed by a chaplain to have a “sincere belief,” which may lead a federal judge to block the mandate for them.
Article by Zachary Stieber from our premium news partners at The Epoch Times.
One hundred percent of the religious exemption requests that have been denied by the Marine Corps. and the Coast Guard were based on a sincere belief, according to chaplains, branch officials said in recent court filings obtained by The Epoch Times.
Approximately 92 percent of the requests denied by the Army were designated by the interviewing chaplain as being based on a sincerely held religious belief or without evidence that the applicant’s stated reasons were not sincere, according to Col. Kevin Mahoney, an official with the Office of the Army Surgeon General and U.S. Army Medical Command.
The disclosures show top military officials have overruled chaplains in over 3,800 cases.
The number “confirms what many of us suspected, which is that the procedure for service members to submit religious exemption requests is basically bogus,” Jay Richards, a senior research fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, told The Epoch Times.
The judge overseeing the case ordered the military to start Jan. 7 detailing how many of the denied requests were judged by chaplains to be sincere, and the latest figures were reported on Jan. 21.
Navy and Air Force officials have defied the order, stating in exhibits that it is “UNKNOWN” how many of the denied requests—the Navy has rejected 3,573 and the Air Force has denied 2,740—came in cases where the chaplains made that determination.
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The case was brought by Liberty Counsel on behalf of military members who said they had been denied religious exemptions and were either punished or threatened with punishment before or after the denials.
Lawyers asked the court to block the enforcement of the military’s mandate against the plaintiffs.
U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday, a George H.W. Bush nominee, turned down the request, but said it was “quite plausible” that the military’s procedures for religious exemptions “is a ruse that will result inevitably in the undifferentiated (and therefore unlawful under RFRA) denial of each service member’s request.”
At the time of the ruling, in November 2021, the military had granted zero religious exemption requests. As of Jan. 29, only one branch, the Marines, had granted any.
Merryday ordered the military to produce figures outlining how officials were handling religious exemption applications and kept open the possibility of ultimately ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.
Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said the judge should have entered the injunction last year, but with the new disclosures, he will likely act.
“He said our arguments were plausible. But I think what he was wanting to do is get more data to confirm that and force the military to reveal the true data. Now that he has received that, I think we’ll get the injunction across the board. Because everything that we said was true,” Staver told The Epoch Times.
At the heart of the case is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which protects religious liberty under the First Amendment by preventing the government from placing a “substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion.” The Pentagon uses the law’s standard to guide its process for accommodating military members’ religious practice.
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Plaintiffs say their exercise of religion compels them not to get a COVID-19 vaccine, despite the order requiring vaccination. Defendants have said they’re properly considering and adjudicating each request, which begins with a chaplain and is sent to various officials, depending on the branch.
“At every step, each accommodation request is given full consideration with respect to the facts and circumstances submitted in the request. In each case, every reviewer weighs the compelling government interest against the individual’s request and the circumstances of their situation,” a Marines spokesman told The Epoch Times in an email, adding that the interest includes military readiness and health and safety.
“Religious accommodation requests include interviews with the Soldier’s chaplain, recommendations from the chain of command, as well as a public health and a legal review. For privacy reasons, we cannot comment on specific exemption requests,” an Army spokesman added.
A Navy spokesman declined to comment, citing pending litigation. The Air Force did not respond to a request for comment. Coast Guard spokespersons have refused to answer recent questions about how the branch handles exemption requests.
Philip Cave, a military lawyer with Cave & Freeburg LLP, told The Epoch Times that in his view, the military doesn’t need to grant any religious exemptions to the mandate.
“It’s my professional opinion that it’s a lawful order and that there are substantial health and mission and national security reasons for enforcement of the order, despite the RFRA,” he said.
Richards, though, said court precedent means service members retain their First Amendment rights after joining the military, which means the military has to respect their religious beliefs.
“I would find it extraordinary if the courts determined that members of the military had no right to religious exemption requests under any circumstance,” he said.
The case, which was filed in federal court in Florida, is ongoing. In a separate case, a federal judge in Texas blocked enforcement of the mandate against a group of Navy SEALs who were denied religious exemptions, ruling that the Navy rightly provides a religious exemption process “but by all accounts, it is theater.”
Will America-First News Outlets Make it to 2023?
Things are looking grim for conservative and populist news sites.
There’s something happening behind the scenes at several popular conservative news outlets. 2021 was bad, but 2022 is proving to be disastrous for news sites that aren’t “playing ball” with the corporate media narrative. It’s being said that advertisers are cracking down, forcing some of the biggest ad networks like Google and Yahoo to pull their inventory from conservative outlets. This has had two major effects. First, it has cooled most conservative outlets from discussing “taboo” topics like Pandemic Panic Theater, voter fraud, or The Great Reset. Second, it has isolated those ad networks that aren’t playing ball.
Certain topics are anathema for most ad networks. Speaking out against vaccines or vaccine mandates is a certain path to being demonetized. Highlighting voter fraud in the 2020 and future elections is another instant advertising death penalty. Throw in truthful stories about climate change hysteria, Critical Race Theory, and the border crisis and it’s easy to understand how difficult it is for America-First news outlets to spread the facts, share conservative opinions, and still pay the bills.
Without naming names, I have been told of several news outlets who have been forced to either consolidate with larger organizations or who have backed down on covering certain topics out of fear of being “canceled” by the ad networks. I get it. This is a business for many of us and it’s not very profitable. Those of us who do this for a living are often barely squeaking by, so loss of additional revenue can often mean being forced to make cuts. That means not being able to cover the topics properly. Its a Catch-22: Tell the truth and lose the money necessary to keep telling the truth, or avoid the truth and make enough money to survive. Those who have chosen survival simply aren’t able to spread the truth properly.
We will never avoid the truth. The Lord will provide if it is His will. Our job is simply to share the facts, spread the Gospel, and educate as many Americans as possible while exposing the forces of evil.
To those who have the means, we ask that you please donate. We have options available now, but there is no telling when those options will cancel us. We just launched a new GiveSendGo page. We also have our GivingFuel page. There have been many who have been canceled by PayPal, but for now it’s still an option. Your generosity is what keeps these sites running and allows us to get the truth to the masses. We’ve had great success in growing but we know we can do more with your assistance.
Thank you, and God Bless!