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Military Grants Zero Religious Exemptions as Vaccination Deadlines Come and Go

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A growing number of U.S. service members say the military is stripping them of their religious liberties. 

This news comes as many of the COVID-19 vaccination deadlines for active-duty members have passed without a single religious exemption being granted. 

"It goes against my bodily sovereignty as a Christian. I mean God makes it very clear. This body that I'm given is my last bastion of freedom," one Army National Guardsman described to CBN News about the vaccination mandate.  At the request of legal counsel, he asked not to be identified.  

He says he received other vaccines from the military without doing much research. But that wasn't the case with the COVID-19 shot.

"This is supposed to be something that's good for me and yet I'm being punished if I do not take something that's good for me. When that was the case, when that happened, I began to question why is this being forced so heavily on us," the Guardsman told CBN News.

In his request for a religious exemption, he cited fetal cell lines used in the research and development phase of the mRNA vaccines and in the production of Johnson & Johnson's shot. If his request isn't granted, he says he'll take a discharge before going against his beliefs. 

First Liberty Institute is representing a group of 35 Navy SEALs seeking exemptions with similar concerns.

"There are various religious objections our clients have to the vaccine.  Each of them prayed earnestly for God's direction and they do not feel they can, in good faith, take this vaccine.  Also, many of them object because of the documented link between this vaccine and aborted fetal cells," Attorney Mike Berry said in a statement to CBN News.

Berry argues it's unconstitutional for their requests to be denied. 

"That's blatant discrimination. You can't treat religious beliefs less favorably than you treat medical conditions or administrative exemptions. Religious freedom in our country is protected by the first amendment to the constitution and that doesn't change just because you serve in the military," Berry said.

The National Faith Advisory Board, a group of more than 1,700 religious leaders, organized by former President Donald Trump, is urging the Secretary of Defense to grant these religious accommodations, writing, "Religious freedom is enshrined in our Constitution and must always be protected."

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CBN News, religious exemptions are rare. For example, none has been granted in either the Navy or Marines in almost a decade. 

"This is not about liberties it's about a military medical requirement to keep them safe, to keep their families safe, to keep their units safe and the Secretary continues to strongly believe that these vaccines are the best way to do it with respect to COVID," Kirby said 

A Navy spokesman told CBN News there is no "blanket policy" about denying religious exemption requests. Each is considered on a case-by-case basis. There are, however, very strict guidelines that must be met, including a history of objecting to vaccinations. Anyone who refuses to get vaccinated, Christian or not, will be given a general discharge. 

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About The Author

Caitlin Burke Headshot

Caitlin Burke serves as National Security Correspondent and a general assignment reporter for CBN News. She has also hosted the CBN News original podcast, The Daily Rundown. Some of Caitlin’s recent stories have focused on the national security threat posed by China, America’s military strength, and vulnerabilities in the U.S. power grid. She joined CBN News in July 2010, and over the course of her career, she has had the opportunity to cover stories both domestically and abroad. Caitlin began her news career working as a production assistant in Richmond, Virginia, for the NBC affiliate WWBT