An unvaccinated Marine officer is sounding the alarm, saying the denial of religious exemptions to the U.S. Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, which went into effect in August, is a direct assault on the rights of military personnel around the world and could be part of a larger effort to purge the armed forces of conservative Christians.
The Epoch Times spoke to Major Lewis Paul (pseudonym), who served in the Marine Corps for nearly 20 years. Paul spoke to the publication on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. He explained the process of finding a religious accommodation, pointing out that each request goes up the chain of command, with the final decision being made at Marine Corps headquarters. The decision, he said, is based on a recommendation from the three-member Religious Placement Review Board, which then forwards requests to Lieutenant General David Ottignon, Deputy Commandant for Personnel and Reserves, for decision and signature.
Although a response must be given within 30 days, Paul said he did not receive a response from headquarters until almost 100 days later. Denials can be appealed directly to the commandant of the Marine Corps, where Paul is today. If his appeal is denied, he will have 30 days to comply by taking the vaccine or face discharge from the Marine Corps.
Paul’s request for religious accommodation was met with negative approval from his superiors, which essentially said, “Not recommended,” he said. Given the delicacy that usually accompanies requests for religious accommodation, the appropriate approval, he said, should have been a neutral approval that would simply allow his request to be considered on the basis of its individual merits. Paul also noted that after enduring what he called the chaplain’s interrogation, he had to defend his quarters in front of every commanding officer who told him he had to fulfill the mandate, as there was no chance the request would be approved.
“The chain of command does not have the power to decide what is or is not a sincere religious belief, but they have chosen to add their own negative endorsement – and I would argue that this is nothing more than a rush to show how loyal they are. administration rather than protecting their Marines,” Paul said.
The process made him feel “betrayed,” he added.
Mike Berry, whose legal work at the First Liberty Institute helped secure a preliminary injunction in early January that prevented the Department of Defense from taking any action against a group of SEALs who have religious objections to the vaccination mandate, told The Epoch Times that “treason is it is a universal feeling” experienced by many in similar situations in all branches of the armed forces.
“[Service members] feel like [military and civilian] leadership has let them down after years, and in some cases decades, of honest and loyal service,” Berry said. “Many feel ignored or even spat upon.”
“In the name of a political agenda and political expediency, people of faith who serve in military uniform are told that the only people who matter are those who choose to get the vaccine, or those who do not hold genuinely professed religious beliefs that would prevent them to get the vaccine,” he said.
End of legacy
Despite public statements that each religious accommodation will be considered on a case-by-case basis, Paul said: “Each case is only treated as a formality to appease the law as the Marine Corps does not currently intend to provide any religious accommodation not to take a shot. .”
He noted that his letter of rejection is word for word the same statement every Marine receives when they are denied placement. The letter from the Deputy Commandant for Personnel and Reserves states that “the decision must be consistent with the performance of the task, including consideration of potential medical risks for other individuals who are part of the unit or organizations, [and] immunization is an essential component of individual and group preparedness.”
He also noted that there is an “equally restrictive way to meet” the request in a way that “ensures military readiness and preserves the health of the forces.”
When Paul asked for more documentation about the decision, he was only given additional documents, which turned out to be template documents that only had room for the initials of the decision maker, with no space for comments.
Paul finds it unlikely that the Marine Corps would consider his case on the merits, as required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Thousands of Marines are facing layoffs for stubbornly refusing to be vaccinated. The Marines have required all members to be injected or apply for release by November 2021. To date, only two Marine Corps requests for religious housing have been approved, according to a January 13 Marine Corps statement, making the Marines the first in the military. branch for granting religious exceptions.
According to the Marines, as of January 12, 3,350 requests had been made, of which 3,212 had been processed. Meanwhile, 351 Marines have been fired for refusing the vaccine.
According to the Marines, 95% of Marines are fully vaccinated, with another 2% partially vaccinated. He added that of the Marines who were hospitalized for COVID-19, 88 percent were not vaccinated.
Before the mandate went into effect in August, Paul said the Marine Corps took steps in mid-summer to rewrite the religious accommodation order, citing Marine Order 1730.9, which was signed July 12.
In the last July order, language specific to immunization was added to a different extent than in the previous order, he said. “It basically suggests that everything can be considered for religious accommodation other than immunization, which was not the case before,” he explained. It also emerged that the previous version of the order had been “removed from the Internet.”
“Many steps have been taken to change the process and ensure that the only response the Marines will ever get is to give up religious accommodation,” he said.
Paul realizes that he is fighting an uphill battle in which he has something to lose. Ultimately, officers who refuse the vaccine will be fired from the Marine Corps in one of two ways. The first would involve accepting extrajudicial punishment and separation without a court-martial through a commission of inquiry. He considers this option “an admission of guilt in an offense.”
Another option is to refuse extrajudicial punishment and face a military tribunal, which can lead to a federal conviction. “This option would not only tarnish my good name,” Paul said, “I would be potentially deprived of basic rights and the opportunity to participate in the very society that I have defended all my adult life.”
After almost two decades of service in the Marine Corps, he said, “My legacy could end in a federal criminal conviction, which should give everyone a big pause, given that I did nothing but stand firm for the truth, remained firm. in their religious beliefs and upheld their commitment to defend the constitution.”
Paul’s legacy goes beyond his own ministry. Both he and his wife had a family member who had been involved in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War—for more than 230 years. “We shed blood and died for this country,” he said. “This betrayal will leave a nasty aftertaste in our family and will undoubtedly influence the decisions of our future families whether to volunteer or not.”
Leadership fails those who gave everything
Every person who joins the military takes an oath “to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Paul said, adding that this oath is taken very seriously because every member of the military understands that it can include ” support and defense of the Constitution up to the cost of one’s own life.
He witnessed “the best of the best in America” give their lives in the ultimate sacrifice to defend their oath. “I had to bury them in front of their families, [and] I had to collect the body parts of my friends.”
While each of these incidents saddens him, he is proud that so many people have defended and defended America’s freedoms. “But who protects our rights as military personnel?” he asked. “Civilian and military leadership is failing us.”
According to him, he is being deprived of his fundamental freedom to practice his religion.
“Where my faith has always been very connected to my service, it was the Marine Corps that changed its mind and decided that that faith no longer mattered in favor of political expediency.”
Deeper problems ahead
Berry of the First Liberty Institute said: “It doesn’t take a genius to see that threats to America’s national security exist around the world, whether it’s China’s hypersonic weapons, uranium-enriching Iran, or the Taliban in Afghanistan. pose a threat to national security.”
Much of the country’s military readiness depends on “an all-volunteer military force, a constant influx of volunteers ready to fight on behalf of our nation,” he said. He said that by not allowing for religious accommodation, “what this is doing is telling a huge cross section of America, that is, people of faith, people of sincere religious belief, that you’re not welcome in the military.”
To that end, Paul said the Marines’ decisions have little to do with protecting military personnel from the virus. “Instead, I would warn people that the vaccine is being used as a political cleansing mechanism,” he said.
Many of his fellow Marines leave the corps. “Many foresaw this coming and chose to retire or quietly end their active service,” he said. “Moving forward, Americans will be far less likely to take up arms and join the military in the future.”
The military faces a serious recruitment and retention problem, Paul said, linked to poor leadership, setbacks in Afghanistan and an unconstitutional vaccination order. He noted that “this will go down in history as one of the most reckless decisions ever made as we see our manpower being deliberately reduced in the face of potential conflicts between the great powers.”
For Pavel, the problem is much deeper than the purge of the ranks. He said it could take a more sinister turn in the coming years. “What happens when another illegal order is given to this new over-obedient military – and this time it’s not vaccination?” he asked. “We have long prided ourselves that we have a military that will do the morally right thing in the face of adversity, but that will disappear if the morale is purged from the military.”
“Regardless of who is being purged, perhaps we should ask ourselves, what is the real cost?” he said. “Military leaders will insist it’s about readiness, but there could be long-term consequences that will be reflected in history.”
The Epoch Times has reached out to the Pentagon for comment.