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Marine Corps reverses penalties for service members who request religious exemption for COVID vaccination

The United States Marine Corps has walked back prior penalties for service members who are seeking religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Fox News, prior punishments included early terminations, dishonorable discharges and promotions either being delayed or cancelled for those who opted not to have the vaccine.

The new guidance “amends actions” directed toward unvaccinated Marines who had religious accommodation requests turned down and then appealed the decision.

This comes after a U.S. Federal District Court in Florida issued a preliminary injunction on August 18th banning the Marines from taking “certain actions” against serving members who requested religious exemptions.

The memo outlining the “interim guidance” states that the “Marine Corps will not enforce any order to accept COVID-19 vaccination, administratively separate, or retaliate against Marines in the class for asserting statutory rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”

RFRA is the federal law which bars the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

“Involuntary administrative separation processing of class members for refusing COVID-19 vaccination is suspended,” the memo said, adding commands for all senior military figures to “pause all administrative actions related to the involuntary separation of a class member, regardless of the current status of the separation process (e.g., no orders will be given to receive the vaccine, no counselings will be issued for refusing the vaccine, no administrative separation boards will be conducted, no DD-214s will be issued).”

The memo explicitly states that vaccination status cannot be “considered or referenced” in fitness reports or any other evaluations carried out.

Approximately 98% of those who are active in the military have received the COVID-19 vaccine, the Pentagon reported in late 2021.

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