US Service Members No Longer Forced to Get Mandatory COVID Shots
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The Department of Defense has rescinded the COVID-19 shot mandate for all military service members after the Biden administration signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Now, service members will not be required to get the shot to keep their jobs.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum in August of 2021 directing all service members to receive the COVID shot, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill were concerned the move would harm the military's recruitment and retention.
"We have real recruitment and retention problems across all services. This was gas on the fire exacerbating our existing problem," said U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. "And the president said, you know, the pandemic is over. It's time for us to recognize that and remove this unnecessary policy."
The move comes as part of the annual defense bill that would provide nearly $858 billion for defense programs; including boosting the U.S.'s competitiveness with Russia and China, and a 4.6% pay raise for service members and the Defense Department's civilian workforce.
The Senate passed the defense policy bill by a vote of 83-11 earlier this month.
Multiple courts have already ruled that the DOD and the various military branches violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by denying requests for religious accommodation.
Recently, a Texas federal judge granted relief to 10 military service members after the Army denied their religious accommodations from the COVID-19 shot mandate.
The Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of those service members.
"While we are pleased that Joe Biden's unlawful and abusive COVID shot mandate will be rescinded, this begrudging reversal under pressure by Congress is not enough," Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said.
He added, "Astoundingly, those who defend the Constitution and the laws of the land are considered insubordinate when they request that the laws for which they pledge their lives be upheld. This is the twisted world under the Biden administration. Our legal case will continue because without the injunctions, service members will continue to face retaliation for requesting a religious accommodation. Service members who have been loyal to the country and faithful to their religious convictions have suffered greatly under this mandate, and we will continue to seek justice for them."
Meanwhile, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) announced that Secretary Austin will answer the requests of all military service members who have asked for a religious accommodation from the COVID-19 vaccine and are still awaiting a response.
As of early this month, about 99% of the active-duty troops in the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps had been vaccinated, and 98% of the Army. Service members who are not vaccinated are not allowed to deploy, particularly sailors or Marines on ships. There may be a few exceptions to that, based on religious or other exemptions and the duties of the service member.
The vaccination numbers for the Guard and Reserve are lower, but generally, all are more than 90%.
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