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.