The military believes that religious exemptions for vaccines cannot be achieved

Washington (AP) — More than 12,000 military service members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine are seeking religious tax exemptions, with no success so far.

Even if the majority of the army is vaccinated, the complete lack of approval creates new tensions within the army.

service, By vaccinating the army, we are urgently trying to curb the coronavirus pandemic. It is currently surrounded by exemption requests that are unlikely to be approved. On the other hand, tax exemptions are available in theory, but seem impossible to obtain, which is embarrassing for troops claiming religious reasons to avoid shooting.

Captivated in the middle are pastors, who must balance the desire to provide compassionate care and guidance to staff with the need to explain potentially wasteful and complex processes. Hmm. They are also believed to prevent unnecessary death, but must evaluate the demands of those who may be using religion as an excuse to avoid politically condemned vaccines. not.

“Many of them come in thinking I’ll make a decision. They think it’s a completed deal in this case,” said Major Asherarien Lang, a National Guard chaplain. “I don’t make a decision, and when they find it, it’s a kind of game changer in the sense that they know that the process has to continue.”

According to the service, at least 30,000 service members have not yet been vaccinated, but thousands of them have been granted temporary or permanent medical or administrative exemptions. Thousands of the remaining (perhaps more than 20,000) are either proceeding with tax exemption procedures for religious reasons or are categorically refusing. This is about 1.5% of the active army of about 1.3 million people.

Obtaining a religious exemption is rooted in a process that precedes a pandemic and has been used to determine whether on-duty troops can wear a head cover or beard for religious reasons.

In addition to discussions with the minister, the military needs to meet with commanders and medical personnel to determine if they are “believed in good faith.” Final decisions are made at the top of the chain of command and are also based on whether a person’s vaccine exemption poses risks to mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, military health and security, and military readiness.

Even in the past, few troops have cleared those hurdles to receive religious exemptions. Also, pandemics can have a direct impact on the health and readiness of troops, so standards are even higher and military leaders are not surprised by the lack of approved exemptions.

But for the military and pastors, it has been a little overwhelming.

“It was just a lot of interviews, a lot of notes,” Lang said. “I found my colleagues stressed by the logistics of having to take notes and keep up with the process. It’s like a rapid fire.”

Air Force officials initially said the request for religious exemption would be answered within 30 days. However, they received more than 4,700 requests. This is far more than any other military service, and the logistics of a long review process make it difficult to meet its timeline. The Navy has received about 2,700 religious exemption requests, the Marines have received 3,100, and the Army has received about 1,700. Some of the dismissals have been appealed, but there is little data on that.

“We didn’t anticipate a surge in demand,” said Colonel Paul Satter, the chief pastor of the Air Force’s religious affairs.

The Air Force Reserve Command, which demanded a religious exemption, said it was not optimistic, recognizing that nothing had been approved so far. The booker, who asked to withhold her name for privacy reasons, said her minister was very straightforward, explained the process, and found that there was no approval.

Still, she said she believed that “God has a plan for my life.”

Satter and Colonel Larry Baiser, Deputy Directors of the National Guard’s Joint Pastor’s Office, said they would talk to military personnel and tell their ministers to be fair when following the process.

“Meet the members where they are. Mr. Satter advises the minister,” Clarifying who they are, how they believe, and how they live their faith. Let me tell you that you want consistency in how they adhere to those beliefs. “

After more than 50 interviews, Lang said the key question she asks is what service members plan to do if their request is denied.

She believes that some troops believe that God does not want them to be vaccinated and that if God somehow does not guarantee that they will be exempt, they will be torn by what they consider to be a contradiction. Told.

“In their hearts and minds, if they say that this is God’s will for my life, and if the answer is no, then there is no balance and it will shatter that faith. God says no. There is no room for it, “she said. “When I make space to say what happens if God says no, it opens up another overall level of conversation of faith.”

The Air Force Reserve Command, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she was raised by a Christian and she abandoned the benefits of the GI bill tuition that she would get if she stayed for another year. I mentioned that I am ready to retire if my request is not granted.

“I need to lose it,” said the mother of three children, including a newborn. She said it was worth it to give up the benefits of the tuition she could transfer to her children. “There is no doubt that God will prepare me.”

The appointment doctor, whose husband was in the Army and was vaccinated, was pregnant when the vaccine came out and was worried about possible reactions.Health officials say that Although safe for pregnant women, the military may allow women temporary exemptions.The booker said Her opposition is rooted in her belief, including concerns that several vaccines have been tested on fetal cell lines developed over decades. The vaccine does not contain fetal substances.

The Vatican believes that being shot by Catholics is “morally acceptable,” and other Christian beliefs do the same. However, some religious leaders have provided templates for exemption letters and expressed their support for vaccine avoidance.

In many cases, the service is whether the service member’s “behavioral pattern” is consistent, whether the member adheres to religious practices on a daily basis, and whether the member participates in “belief-related” activities. I asked the pastor questions about the interview.

The minister also takes into account whether the minister has previously received religious accommodation.

“I don’t really delve into how long they’re in church or all that, because it’s really about the current reality of what they really believe in,” Lang said. .. It’s a political decision, but they wrap it up in religion — that’s what they believe in the moment. “

The ministers said the interview had the secondary benefit of making the military more aware that religious personnel were available and that the conference was causing longer conversations on other issues.

“It was really a bridge to some larger ministries,” Lang said.

Pastors are also reaching out to each other for help. The last two years have been challenging for them as they have worked with troops facing a variety of struggles, including COVID-19 losses, employment pressure, racial insecurity and protests, and deployments.

“It has really put a lot of stress on our ministerial corps-just being there as their minister,” said Rabbi Baiser. “Overall, I’m a good person, but I’m tired. I think our faith gives us a special power to keep us moving forward. It’s that spiritual adrenaline. It’s a driving force. “

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