The Marine Corps has so far accepted two religious exemptions for its vaccines mandates. But while to some that seems like progress in the effort to balance individual freedoms against COVID mandates, critics are telling Fox News it is a "deception" and a "scandal" to mislead the public.
The two exceptions granted were for a Marine on terminal leave and another 180 days from an exit. At the same time, many other Marines are receiving "blanket" rejections to their religious exemptions, according to the report.
"Granting RAs [religious accommodations] for civilians is basically a moot point," an officer told Fox News. "They did that as an administrative workaround … to get it to look like they granted two, so that they would alleviate some of the pressure.".
"It's really just deception," the officer added. "Even people who are about to retire or about to get out are still being forced to get the vaccine, which is completely nonsensical, because if it's about health and readiness of the force, how does someone who's about to be a civilian impact health and readiness of the force?"
In all, 3,212 of 3,350 requests for religious exemptions have to date been denied by the Marines, and at least 351 have been discharged for defying the vaccine mandate set by the Biden administration, according to the report.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., an Army veteran, wrote a letter to Marine Corps Commander Gen. David Berger seeking answers on the religious exemptions process.
"President Biden's military vaccine mandate is a counterproductive mistake to impose on our men and women in uniform," Issa wrote in a statement referencing his letter. "That's why dozens of service members have reached out to my office searching for help and revealing the troubling details of this destructive mandate. I won't stop fighting for these troops."
The military has described its COVID-19 vaccine mandate as an issue of "readiness," but the departures over the mandate and the resistance to it are damaging in their own way to that goal, according to Issa.
"This mandate is causing incalculable harm to force readiness, troop morale, and our national security," Issa's statement added. "Our service members deserve to know the critical circumstances that lead to the USMC's approval of these religious accommodation requests, so they too may fully consider how to include complete details involving their own unique cases."
The two granted religious exemptions were originally denied and then appealed; they were granted only after the leave process had begun, according to the report.
"Requests are reviewed and endorsed [as applicable] by the Marine's lieutenant colonel commander, colonel commander, and commanding general before being forwarded to the adjudication authority – the deputy commandant, Manpower and Reserve Affairs," Marines spokesperson Capt. Andrew Wood told Fox News. "Within Manpower and Reserve Affairs, there is a three-person Religious Accommodation board which reviews each package, and makes a recommendation to the deputy commandant. The deputy commandant then personally reviews the content of each package before making a decision. If a request is denied, the submitter has the option to appeal the decision to the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps."
"At every step, each accommodation request is given full consideration with respect to the facts and circumstances submitted in the request," he continued. "In each case, every reviewer weighs the compelling government interest against the individual's request and the circumstances of their situation."
Issa has set up a portal on his website offering "military vaccine mandate assistance."
"When we hear about the lone two that somehow went from rejected to accepted, we already doubted it, and now we're being told by whistleblowers that it is fishy and that there is more to it," Issa told Fox News. "The wholesale rejection is not acceptable, and now the problem is getting the facts so that we can in fact draft an appropriate prohibition on the activity that's coming out of the Pentagon.
"If you ignore it in one place, you may well ignore it in others over time," he added. "This is something that is not going to be allowed to stand."
Fox News reports Marines who have been rejected for exemptions have been issued nearly identical denial letters, citing readiness.
"This is a scandal," Issa spokesperson Jonathan Wilcox told Fox News.
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