COVID-19 vaccination mandates have impacted Americans across the country, forcing many to choose between their bodily autonomy and, in many cases, their livelihoods. But many Americans have had to choose between not only their preferred health choices, but also their sincere religious beliefs. Unfortunately, the very people who defend constitutional rights, such as freedom of religion, have seen their own rights attacked. An original period documentary, available on Epoch TVentitled “The Pentagon’s War on Religionexposes a continuing pattern of religious discrimination within the Department of Defense.
Award-winning reporter for The Epoch Times, Joshua Philipp, is investigating what appears to be widespread religious discrimination within the US armed forces. The pushback of COVID-19 vaccination warrants revealed possible violations of military and constitutional law in an institution designed to protect these fundamental rights.
In July 2021, the Biden administration explored Covid-19 vaccine warrants for the armed forces. Although service members were told they could request religious accommodations, their requests were overwhelmingly denied. For example, Philipp interviewed Lt. Col. Brandi King, who served in the Air Force Reserve Command for 19 years. She was instructed by phone in September 2021 that she had to get vaccinated or file an exemption request. However, when King revealed his intention to file a request for religious accommodation, his supervisor asked him to reconsider, saying he had heard that such requests would not be allowed.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice details crimes and punishments for the armed forces. Section 92 deals with non-compliance with an order. Troops were punished, expelled and sidelined for not being vaccinated. However, military law requires allowing religious exemptions for vaccinations. Nevertheless, the military has generally shown little intention of recognizing this legally protected right. King wasn’t the only one.
US Navy documents detail the risk of service members refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. According to a US Navy document titled “Vaccination Exemptions for Religious Beliefs,” troops risk being punished if they request a religious exemption and then it is denied. Punishments include potential justice commissioners, among other measures, for disobeying a lawful order.
Documents reveal that the military has already determined that the COVID vaccine mandate is a legal order. A document titled “Navy Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination and Reporting Policy” states that “refusal to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, absent an approved exemption, will constitute a breach of lawful order and is punishable. under the Uniform Military Code. Justice and/or may result in administrative action. An order from the Secretary of the Navy states that “because vaccination against COVID-19 is now mandatory, commanding officers, commanding officers, or officers in charge … are authorized to temporarily reassign Navy service members who refuse the vaccine against COVID-19, regardless of exemption status”. including allowing them to submit a misconduct report and delay the promotion of any officer who refuses the vaccine.
Major Kim Bitter served 22 years in the United States Air Force Reserve. Now his career is in jeopardy just before retirement. Bitter’s underlying medical condition caused her doctor to advise against vaccination against COVID-19. Although she submitted a request for a medical exemption signed by her doctor, the army always refused her. She also submitted a request for religious accommodation, which was denied. Her commanding officer then informed Bitter that she would no longer serve in the military and be turned into an inactive reserve. This means sitting on the sidelines until his enlistment contract expires, which hurts the careers, livelihoods and pensions of many soldiers.
Why is the army prepared to treat its soldiers this way? Are these actions even legal? Philipp spoke with several lawyers to find out.
Attorney Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty, was representing 35 Navy Seals and others seeking religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination mandates at the time of the documentary. Berry said the DOD acted as if the unvaccinated did not deserve the protection of their constitutional rights and that only fully vaccinated people had rights and freedoms they could enjoy. He believes the treatment shows blatant bigotry and discrimination, not least because of religious beliefs that prohibit many from getting vaccinated.
As of January 2022, only the US Marine Corps had granted religious accommodations for the COVID vaccine, and even the two they granted have been questioned. Some received an exemption for medical or administrative purposes, suggesting that the military does not view religious exemptions with the same weight as others.
Attorneys say the apparent blanket denial of religious exemptions may violate religious protections such as the Constitution’s First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, among other laws. Philipp cites an exemption allowed for people participating in clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine using placebos, which means those participants are not vaccinated. If warrants were set because the unvaccinated are too much of a danger to the armed forces, no one would be allowed to be unvaccinated.
The Epoch TV The episode shows that a June 2021 order from the Air Force’s chief chaplain states that when considering religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, commanders will approve accommodation requests. religious unless a compelling governmental interest exists behind the act from which they seek exemption. Does this suggest a predetermined policy based on government interests to refuse religious accommodation?
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 states that religious protections under the United States Constitution are not limited only to official interpretations of religions or denominations. Beyond that, it protects the sincere beliefs specific to each individual, specifying that the army cannot burden the exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general application. The only exception is if the government can show a compelling justification for imposing restrictions, and even then must prove that the route taken is the least restrictive means available. How is it the least restrictive if medical exemptions are recognized for certain reasons, but religious exemptions are not allowed?
Alarmingly, it seems that religious exceptions have been denied for some time. For example, the Department of the Navy says the last religious vaccine exemption request to be approved was in 2015. This suggests that the refusal to honor religious freedoms with exemption requests predates COVID-19 vaccines. 19.
According to former Navy chaplain Dr. Gordon Klingenschmitt, the COVID-19 warrants reveal a pattern of religious discrimination within the military that has lasted for more than a decade. In 2006, Klingenschmitt was no longer authorized to lead sectarian prayers. This means that chaplains could pray to a god, but they could not pray in the name of Jesus. This would result in punishment by their commander.
In February 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered a military-wide effort to combat extremism within the ranks. Details of these discussions have raised allegations of discrimination against people with religious beliefs. In March 2021, while testifying before the House Armed Service Committee, Berry exposed a slide in a Department of Defense training manual that categorized Catholics and evangelical Christians as “religious extremists.” “Does this mean that the army’s efforts to eradicate extremism include a campaign that discriminates against Catholics and evangelical Christians? asked Philip. The slide even placed Catholics and evangelical Christians on a list alongside violent and racist Klu Klux Klan groups and terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hamas.
According to Epoch TV episode, the DOD itself promoted extremist views. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has exposed hundreds of stories from military whistleblowers that the DOD is pushing Marxist Critical Race Theory ideology into its ranks. Military history has been replaced by far-left political ideologies such as systemic racism and white privilege. The military also incorporated racist and overtly discriminatory books such as Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” into its education. That the military is allowing the presence of a socialist ideology that has falsified American history and divided society based on race, gender and ethnicity is deeply concerning, Phillip said. All service members are sworn to uphold the Constitution, but department policies actively discriminate against religion.
Every freedom in the United States Constitution depends on freedom of religion. If a person has freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, but is not allowed to write, speak, or assemble on religious matters, then he ultimately does not have these rights. All American freedoms depend on the religious freedom of the individual to have his own conscience and live accordingly.
1.4 million people serve in the US military. If successful, Berry’s case will show that people don’t have to give up their religious freedoms when serving in the military. Being in the military means there will be orders and directives. However, such orders and directives must be in accordance with the law and the Constitution. Service members have the right and the obligation to challenge orders that violate their constitutional rights. Freedom of religion is closely related to freedom in general, and a threat to one is a threat to both.
The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Epoch Times.