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US Army penalizing soldiers seeking religious accommodation to vaxx mandate: 'Technique of coercion'

12:11  03 october  2022
12:11  03 october  2022 Source:   foxnews.com

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The U.S. Army is subjecting unvaccinated soldiers to punishments, including prohibiting off-base travel, halting promotions, and enforcing involuntary terminations from the service, which active-duty service members claim is a strategy to pressure them to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs.

An Army spokesperson confirmed to Fox News Digital that unvaccinated soldiers, including those without an approved religious accommodation exemption, are "subject to certain adverse administrative actions."

"Soldiers who refuse the order to be vaccinated without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to certain adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to continued service, and official reprimands (GOMORS)," said the spokesperson.

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According to the Army's public coronavirus statistics, 4,664 active-duty soldiers requested a religious exemption to the vaccine, but only 44 were granted. The Army has enacted 1,722 total separations with unvaccinated soldiers, according to the data. The Army did not detail how many separations were due to having been denied a religious exemption.

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One current major in Army Special Operations, who was deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, last year during the Biden administration's deadly withdrawal and has served for almost 11 years, including three combat deployments, called it a "technique of coercion" being unitized by the military to force voluntary retirements.

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United States Army soldiers in training. U.S. Army © army.mil United States Army soldiers in training. U.S. Army

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"What [the Army] is doing, it's a technique of coercion to stall people's careers, to force voluntary retirements, voluntary exits," he said. "In my case, I could be a year behind my peers, and that will have devastating results when it comes to my next promotion."

The major explained that due to his unvaccinated status, he is being kept from getting his master’s degree at Liberty University, which will stall his career. In addition, he had already bought a house in Virginia and planned to move his family from Fort Bragg to their new home at the end of the summer, but he is now stuck in limbo because he has been barred from traveling.

"My career is still being stalled. They can't claim it's because I'm in the process of having a religious accommodation approved or reviewed, because that in and of itself is religious discrimination," he said. "And they are cleverly crafting cases. So it appears as if they're simply losing a higher rate of people to natural exit, not tying it to COVID or their policies. So I was intentionally trying to use the entitlements that I've earned and to demonstrate how they are in breach of contract and actively preventing their own officers' advancement."

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Another service member who has been in the Army for 10 years told Fox News Digital that due to his unvaccinated status, he lost a promotion opportunity.

"I haven't been made a platoon leader, and all my peers have, and I also have missed three training events that required travel," he said.

Despite submitting a religious exemption request last October, it took the Army 11 months to respond with a formal denial.

"The extended period has caused a lot of uncertainty in my own life and my family's life. I'm married with three kids. And so I don't know if I'm going to have a job in a year, despite having served for 10 years already. And so just overall, this whole process has prevented me from advancing in my career," he told Fox News Digital.

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Another service member, who participated in the Joint Army/Marine Corps evacuation effort in Afghanistan last August, told Fox News Digital that the whole exemption process has been frustrating.

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"It's troubling being in limbo like this," he said. "First off, with the Army not acknowledging your First Amendment rights and issues, they have to guard. But second, just not knowing at what point you're going to get the boot and need to have that income stream in order to not get foreclosed on, or what have you."

"The most troubling piece" of the entire process, he elaborated, is that soldiers were cautioned against submitting religious exemptions in the first place, because if their faith were found to be "insincere" by the Army, they could be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"It's coercion," he explained. "I'm frustrated as a service member, but I am appalled as taxpayer in how much time and money the Department of Defense has wasted on this."

In addition, he explained that most of the service members' exemption denials contained almost identical language and punctuation, which he said is a violation of First Amendment rights.

"I do not believe that it was a mere coincidence that every commander used the same verbiage (including the same punctuation) in the chain of command recommendations for the religious accommodation requests. It seems there was a template pushed down through the legal channels with an emphasis to recommend disapproval. The Surgeon General then uses the chain of command recommendations to justify his denial of the religious accommodation requests. It seems there has been a gross violation of the requirement to actually consider each individual request in accordance with the law," he stated.

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The Pentagon has come under scrutiny for its "potential noncompliance" with the individualized and thorough review required under federal law for each religious exemption request.

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The Pentagon's watchdog recently 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 a report obtained by Fox News Digital last month.

The Pentagon's watchdog recently said the Department of Defense is in © (AP Photo/Danial Hakim) The Pentagon's watchdog recently said the Department of Defense is in "potential noncompliance" with standards for reviewing and denying religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. (AP Photo/Danial Hakim)

According to an internal memo by the Pentagon's Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin written in June, the IG writes that he reviewed "concerning denials of religious liberty accommodation requests from COVID-19 vaccination requirements."

Regarding the IG report, and whether the Army has taken any steps to address alleged blanket denials of exemptions, the Army spokesperson referred Fox News Digital to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon previously insisted that the department "is doing everything we can to best protect our service members and their families."

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Cisneros "has communicated the standards for the services to follow regarding all exemptions and mandates, outlining that they be consistent with the requirements of section 720 of the FY22 NDAA. Additionally, he has formally communicated that the standard for religious exemptions related to COVID-19 vaccination must be processed in accordance with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993," the DOD spokesperson said in a statement regarding the leaked IG report.

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Members of Congress are also getting involved. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Pentagon's Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell last month, requesting more information about the Pentagon's internal report.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, has served in the Army for a combined 24 years. Mariannette Miller-Meeks campaign © Mariannette Miller-Meeks campaign Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, has served in the Army for a combined 24 years. Mariannette Miller-Meeks campaign

A few of the soldiers who spoke with Fox News Digital said that they had written to their local congressmen and senators, who have launched congressional inquiries on their behalf, which they hope will grab the attention of their seniors and resolve the issue.

NAVY QUIETLY ROLLED BACK PUNISHMENTS FOR SEALS SEEKING RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS TO THE COVID VACCINE

"While I encourage everyone who is medically able to get vaccinated, I think it’s unacceptable that soldiers are being kicked out of the Army for refusing the vaccine—especially given the vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission," Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, told Fox News Digital.

"Our Army is struggling to recruit and retain members. Instead of implementing unnecessary vaccine requirements and leaning into woke culture, the Army should shift its focus to strengthen our forces," said Meeks, who has served in the Army for a combined 24 years, including active duty as a lieutenant colonel and currently as a reservist.

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