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Tipsheet

Marine Corps Rescinds Penalties for Service Members Seeking COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemptions

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The U.S. Marine Corps is rescinding strict punishments for service members seeking religious and other exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, Fox News reported Friday.

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New interim guidance posted this week “amends actions” towards Marines who did not get the COVID-19 vaccine and sought a religious exemption. Service members who previously applied for a religious exemption could have the application denied. They could appeal this decision. Townhall covered late last year how Marines were removed for refusing to get vaccinated.

The memo stated that “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).

“Involuntary administrative separation processing of class members for refusing COVID-19 vaccination is suspended,” it added. “Commanders shall 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).”

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The RFRA is a federal law that prohibits the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of their religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” 

The memo references a preliminary injunction issued on Aug. 18 by a federal District Court in Florida that prohibits the Marine Corps from taking “certain actions” against Marines who are unvaccinated and seeking religious exemptions.

In addition, the memo states that COVID-19 vaccination status will not be “considered or referenced” in fitness reports or other evaluations for service members.

In a statement to Fox, Marine Corps spokesperson Maj. Jay Hernandez said "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.”

"We are working to ensure our current guidance aligns with the injunction and will publish more information when available," Hernandez added.

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Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (CA) called the change “a major win for common sense and especially for thousands of Marines unjustly punished by Biden’s destructive military vaccine mandate.”

“It must be ended now,” he added.

Last year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated that all members of the military get vaccinated. Each branch enforced its own vaccination policies and deadlines. 

"It is a lawful order," Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a statement following the announcement. "It is a valid military requirement to get the vaccine."

Fox reported this week that the U.S. Navy also quietly rescinded punishments for unvaccinated SEALs who sought religious exemptions.

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