Pentagon: Denying vax exemptions has 'nothing to do with trampling on the religious liberties' of soldiers

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Pentagon press secretary John Kirby asserted that the military’s refusal to grant any COVID-19 vaccine exemptions to service members has “absolutely nothing to do” with trampling on their religious freedom.

“With no religious exemptions granted so far with the COVID vaccine, there’s concern that members of the military have been stripped of their religious liberties,” CBN News national security correspondent Caitlin Burke said during a news conference Wednesday.

Kirby acknowledged that “there haven’t been any religious exemptions granted by any of the services,” and he added that Burke would have to ask each branch of service for the reasons why.

He said that “religious exemptions for military medical requirements” are “always rare” and “typically historically very rare.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon on Oct. 27, 2021, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“This has absolutely nothing to do with trampling on the religious liberties of the men and women in uniform,” Kirby said. He added that when soldiers, sailors, airmen and troops sign up to serve in the military, “one of the many things you sign up to defend is the right to worship.”

“We obviously respect that,” he said, mentioning the chaplains who serve the armed services.

A health care worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Oct. 5, 2021.
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

“This is not about liberties, it’s about a military medical requirement to keep them safe, to keep their families safe, to keep their units safe,” he added.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Aug. 25 directed all military branches to ensure service members receive the vaccine as infections surged over the summer. Active duty members had until Nov. 2 to have at least one dose of a vaccine regimen, while National Guard and Reserve members had until Dec. 2 to comply.

Some 12,000 personnel in the Air Force have declined any vaccination regimen – down from around 60,000 at the start of October, according to The Washington Post.

U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 10th Mountain Division stand security at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 16, 2021.
(Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

Fox News’ Peter Aitken contributed to this report. 

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