Military looks askance at religious exemptions for vaccines

Some people who do not want to get the vaccine but are required to do so because of their work are claiming the right to a religious exemption. At least when it comes to the military, they are finding that a very tough sell.

More than 12,000 military service members refusing the COVID-19 vaccine are seeking religious exemptions, and so far they are having zero success.

That total lack of approvals is creating new tensions within the military, even as the vast majority of the armed forces have gotten vaccinated.

The services, urgently trying to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check by getting troops vaccinated, are now besieged with exemption requests they are unlikely to approve. Meanwhile, troops claiming religious reasons for avoiding the shots are perplexed because exemptions are theoretically available, yet seem impossible to obtain.

Obtaining a religious exemption is rooted in a process that predates the pandemic and has been used for decisions such as whether troops on duty can wear head coverings or beards for religious reasons.

In addition to discussions with chaplains to determine whether they have a “sincerely held belief,” troops must meet with commanders and medical personnel. The final decision is made higher up the chain of command and is also based on whether the person’s vaccine exemption will pose a risk to mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, the health and safety of the force, and military readiness.

Even in the past, few troops have cleared those hurdles to get religious exemptions. And because the pandemic can directly affect the force’s health and readiness, the bar is even higher, so military leaders aren’t surprised by the lack of approved exemptions.

Some people are of course unhappy and being turned down, thinking that their god would see to it that they got an exemption.

An Air Force reservist who requested a religious exemption said she’s aware of none approved so far, and she is not optimistic. The reservist, who asked that her name be withheld for privacy reasons, said her chaplain was very straightforward, laying out the process and noting the lack of approvals.

Still, she said, she believes “God has a plan for my life.”

Sutter and Col. Larry Bazer, deputy director of the National Guard’s joint chaplain office, said they tell their chaplains to be impartial as they speak with service members and to follow the process.

“Meet the member where they are. Let them articulate who they are, how they believe and how they live out that faith,” Sutter said he advises chaplains. “We’re just looking for their articulation of their deeply held beliefs. You’re looking for a consistency in how they adhere to those beliefs.”

[Maj. A’Shellarien Lang, an Army chaplain for the National Guard], who has done more than 50 interviews, said a key question she asks is what service members plan to do if their request is denied — a possibility some don’t expect.

She said some troops believe God doesn’t want them vaccinated and are torn by what they see as a contradiction if God somehow doesn’t ensure they get the exemption.

“If in their heart and their mind, they say this is God’s will for my life, and if the answer is no, it’s going to shatter that faith because there’s no balance. There’s no room for God to say no,” she said. “When I create the space to say what if God says no, then that opens up another whole level of faith conversation.”

The Air Force reservist who spoke on condition of anonymity said she was raised a Christian and is willing to retire if her request isn’t granted, even though it would mean giving up her G.I. Bill tuition benefits that she would get if she stayed another year or more.

“I will have to forfeit that,” said the mother of three children, including a newborn. Forgoing the tuition benefit, which she could transfer to her children, is worth it, she said. “I have no doubt God will provide for me.”

She says that she has no doubt that her god will provide for her. The fact that so many people have died of covid who had similar levels of certainty does not seem to register in her consciousness. Devout believers tend think that they are the exception, the special one that will get what so many others failed to get.

People keep finding new rationales for not getting the vaccine or for not having got it sooner. I was listening to an interview with a doctor at a rural hospital in Missouri who said that vaccine mandates had backfired and spoke about one person who said he refused because it was mandated.

I mean, I literally had a patient tell me this last week who was unvaccinated, they said, you know what? If they just wouldn’t have told me that I had to get it and just told us that it was a good idea and why we should get it, that we needed to protect our family and friends, he said I would have got it. He said, but it was the fact that somebody was telling me I had to do it. So people around here – and not just around here – the last thing they want to be told is by some bureaucrat sitting in an office somewhere that has no understanding of our livelihood and how we live telling us how we need to live and what we need to do with our bodies.

This is utter rubbish. For months and months health experts were urging people to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves and their families and friends. The mandates had to be introduced precisely because people like this person did not listen to those pleadings. They seem to have a convenient form of amnesia to justify their actions.

Jordan Klepper looks at some of the other nonsensical reasons that people give for not getting vaccinated.


  1. cartomancer says

    I am becoming increasingly stressed as the months pass and my idiot brother still hasn’t got his vaccine. And his reason is even more moronic than most -- his vile wife has threatened to divorce him if he does. So in his case it’s not his own stupidity at the heart of things, it’s capitulating to someone else’s. Quite why he is still with the horrific old bastard I have no idea. I’ve never liked her, and this has made my opinion plummet even further.

    So, I’ve been thinking… the various components of the immune system are blood-borne, aren’t they? Would a transfusion of my blood to him also transfer the elements required for Covid protection? We are identical twins, so there wouldn’t be any incompatibility issues, and I have regular blood tests for STDs and the like. Or is there some biological issue with that plan that I don’t grasp?

  2. garnetstar says

    @1, sorry about your brother. As for your plan, yes, they used to do that for Lassa fever, although since the people weren’t related they just transferred plasma. Apparently it worked a little, although they only did it in cases where a person was already sick and needed some antibodies, not as a vaccination.

    As for the military: when they joined, didn’t they agree to take orders? Not to pick and choose which (lawful) orders they would obey?

  3. Jazzlet says

    cartomncer @1
    Only a portion of the immune response is blood bourne all of the time, so while it would be better than nothing it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as a vaccination. Besides which what are you going to do to make him accept a trasfusion from you?

  4. Holms says

    Not enough to be worthwhile, cartomancer. Plus, any B memory cell you donate is a B memory cell you don’t have any more.

  5. mnb0 says

    “one person who said he refused because it was mandated.”
    Of course this makes him just as much a puppet. It’s easy to manipulate him: tell him to do exactly the opposite of what you (don’t) want him to do.
    If he’s serious.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    Cartomancer #1
    No, a blood transfusion would do almost nothing. The mRNA vaccine works in a two step process to teach your immune system to quickly recognize a Covid-19 infection: Step one is the shot, which introduces a special RNA message to some of your muscle cells. This message tells your cells to make a protein structure which is very much like the spike proteins on the outside of the real virus. Step two is your immune system recognizing those spike proteins as something which shouldn’t be in your body and making antibodies specially designed to attack and destroy those spike proteins. Both the RNA messages and the spike proteins are broken down and gone from your body within a few days. All that is left is your immune systems’ “knowlege” about how to make antibodies for Covid.
    If you gave your brother a pint of your blood, he would get about 1/8 of your new antibodies. This might be of some help if he had recently been infected with Covid and needed something to fight the active infection while his own immune system was trying to figure out what to do, but your blood would not teach his immune system how to make more Covid antibodies. So if he were not infected when he got your blood, your antibodies would just slowly break down in his body and nothing would be accomplished.

  7. Katydid says

    The moron segment of the workforce where I work are also trying the religious exemption nonsense because the workplace has enough employees to fall under the mandate. Mainstream Christianity has never had any prohibition against vaccines, and the vast majority of the Christians where I work belong to the mainstream Christian sects (e.g. Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, non-whackadoodle-flavor-Baptist, etc.). I’ve also heard some of the moron contingent using the “logic” that they won’t get it simply because they’re being told to get it.

  8. moarscienceplz says

    “Still, she said, she believes “God has a plan for my life.””
    If she actually read her Bible (in my experience, True Christian Believers seldom do), she would learn that those people whom their god has a plan for usually have pretty horrible experiences.

  9. Bruce says

    Almost everyone in the military got some vaccination when they enlisted. If they didn’t register a religious objection to vaccination then, I don’t see why they should get an exemption now. But then, I also don’t see why the military should grant any religious exemptions to vaccination to anyone, ever. If the draft came back, say for all males and females under 65, I wouldn’t want to be forced to serve, work, and live with someone putting my life at needlessly greater risk. I’d like the accommodation of being able to enter a grocery store which no unvaccinated person has entered in the past two hours. I have an atheistic religious objection to getting sick needlessly.

  10. steve oberski says

    Quite likely a large degree of overlap between those soldiers that are seeking a religious exemption and those that would join a military coup to overthrow the results of an election.

  11. Mano Singham says

    cartomancer @#1,

    I can see how this situation is really stressful for you. It must be really distressing. to see a sibling (a twin, no less) take such a dangerous path purely on the demands of a spouse. On the other hand, I can see how her ultimatum would alarm him. But would she really carry out that threat? It is so hard to tell with these determined anti-vaxxers.

  12. Robert Estrada says

    Sorry I am going to be rude and blunt.
    To the refuseniks, when you were first in service in basic your cherry asses got vaccinated for every known disease. If you are too wimpy to suffer one more get the f out of the service. And please refuse tetanus vaccinations as a civilian.

  13. John Morales says

    In addition to discussions with chaplains to determine whether they have a “sincerely held belief,”

    A bit mealy-mouthed.

    That should be “a “sincerely held religious belief” — because only religious beliefs are thus privileged — to be contextually accurate.

  14. says

    If they just wouldn’t have told me that I had to get it and just told us that it was a good idea and why we should get it, that we needed to protect our family and friends, he said I would have got it.

    I would bet money that this patient didn’t hear anyone telling him it was a good idea and why he should get it is because he probably only consumes right wing media and sees all other sources as fake news.

  15. Rob Curtis says

    The military people who don’t want a vaccine because of religious beliefs should re-xamine the 10 commandments.

    iirc one says “thou shalt not kill”
    none say “thou shalt not vaccinate”
    They have a religious problem with a vaccine, but no religious problem with having to kill people in military action?

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